New species

Aves de Peru

Friday March 19, 2010 was a day of bird history for Peruvian ornithology and birdwatching.

The book Birds of Peru by Schulenberg et al was published in Spanish and presented during a full day of lectures and build up to the final presentation of the book in which Environmental Minister Antonio Brack Egg was present. Key lectures were held mostly in Spanish by the original authors Tom Schulenberg, Dan Lane, John O’Neill and Doug Stotz. All made tribute to legendary Ted Parker who laid the foundation to the idea of a field guide to the birds of Peru.


Having a birdbook in Spanish will make ornithology and birding in Peru explode. Specifically, shall it become an incentive for locals to learn about birds to show to visiting birdwatchers. Hoards of new birding guides will make Peru more prepared for the increasing avi-tourism. But also more Peruvians will find birdwatching as a hobby more rewarding with this book. Finally, the book incentivates more biologists being formed with prime interest in birds. This will take Peruvian ornithology to a new level followed by a stream of publications in scientific journals.


I could unfortunately only be present during the first part of the day, so I missed a lot of good lectures and presentations but three particular mentions have to be made, as they involve new species to Peru. In total 4 new species to Peru were mentioned within two hours. Colombia best watch out for the number one position of most species in the world.

Reddish Egret and White-winged Coot – New birds to Peru

Tom Schulenberg was first out mentioning that new species can be found also along the coast of Peru in spite being relatively well covered by ornithologists and birders. The main reason is because there traditionally is less activity in the field during the Austral summer (Dec-February).

Two extra-ordinary new records were mentioned. Marshall Iliff’s White morph Reddish Egret south of Chiclayo a couple of weeks ago and White-winged Coot found at Mejia lagoons in the South during last part of 2009. The coot was still present there during a survey in February.

New Thrush in Peru

New Thrush in Peru

Dan Lane dedicated his full speach to the “gray-tailed form of Hauxwell’s Thrush” which turns out to be a good species, which certainly was indicated in the first edition of Birds of Peru. What comes as a complete surprise is that the form is not at all closely related to Hauxwell’s Thrush. A phylogenetic tree was presented showing the New Thrush being closest relative with the Ecuadorian Thrush and Bare-faced Thrush – and other thrushes that share a cat-like call. It is quite amazing that the call could show this much genetic relationship within Oscine passerines, in which the song is learnt. It seems some calls may nevertheless be genetically defined. The paper describing the new thrush is submitted, so we can soon expect the thrush being officially described. An important parenthesis is that the new thrush was the 11th bird that John O’Neill collected in Peru outside of Pucallpa. Since then he has described 13 species. It turns out his 14th new species described was actually his first new species to science! Dan also showed distribution maps showing that the distribution of the new Thrush is quite widespread along the upper Amazon and its tributaries and at many sites sympatric with Hauxwell’s Trush. Me thinks this will not be the last time a cryptic species will be described from the Peru.

Another Barbet – again.

John O’Neill held his lecture in English and with Spanish translation. He presented all the birds he has been involved in describing as new species. One of the most spectacular was the Scarlet-banded Barbet in the Cushabatay, Cordillera Azul area. In fact, the expedion had wanted to reach the main Cordillera Azul and the highest peak, but had to settle for the slightly lower, but closer Cushabatay area since the river held very little water.

Remote areas do still turn up new birds. During a recent expedition further south in the Sira Range and the Gran Pajonal a new Barbet was once again found. Clearly it is closely related as it is similar in colors but have bright red-flanks. This new Barbet intrigues me. I have some time free in July to go and look for it. Any takers?

Photo credits. Reddish Egret. Copywright. Marshall Iliff.
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A bird without a name

Spectacled Flower Pecker from Borneo. Photograph: Richard Webster of <a href=This is quite remarkable! A seemingly totally new species discovered at the well birding Borneo RainForest Lodge. Richard Webster spotted a unknown bird feeding in a mistle-toe in the canopy while walking the 250m canopy walk some 35 m above the ground. He took some pictures, which later were sent to Dr. David Edwards – a specialist at Leeds University, who realized that there are no birds in the bird collections that fits to the photos. Furthermore Edwards had studied the birds of the undergrowth in the same area extensively, why the new bird is possibly a canopy specialist.

I’ll let you enjoy the full article in David P. Edwards, Richard E. Webster, Rose Ann Rowlett. ‘Spectacled Flowerpecker’: a species new to science discovered in Borneo?. BirdingASIA 12 (2009): 38–41

Birding Asia is a great magazine for anyone interested in the birds of the region. Not only great. It is essential. And Oriental Bird Club supports a number of conservation projects. If you your not a member of Oriental Bird Club, please consider becoming one now!

I found several things remarkable with this discovery.

  • A new species found in a well birded area!
  • The description is made and letting the world know, before  the species has been scientifically described. There is no specimen – only photographs – and the discoverers have chosen to share their finding, both to alert that there may be specimens mislabeled in collections and that proper scientific collected specimen could/should be secured after proper permits have been attained.
  • If you follow standard listing rules – you can’t count it, because it still lacks a formal name. Isn’t it time birders set their own rules as a community. (Will be treating this issue in one of the last posts of the Social Media For birders Workshop.
  • With shouting out this discovery, it also shows that there is so much to discover and that the destruction of rain forest may be faster than new species can be described. Maybe this fast treatment will set a standard for other discoveries in the future. I am not saying they should not be properly collected. Only that the birders can help collect important information if the secrecy of new discoveries are avoided. I don’t think anyone would try to scoop the authors and describe the species on their own when a specimen is obtained.  That someone would look awfully silly and get the disrespect from the whole scientific community and the birders combined.
  • It’s seems to be a canopy specialist. Maybe dependant on the fruit of mistletoe.

Excellent done! And congratulations Richard Webster, David Edwards and Rose Anne Rowlett

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Fiji Petrel Interview.

Fiji Petrel. First photograph. The Tubenose project. Hadoram Shirihai.

Fiji Petrel. First photograph. The Tubenose project. Hadoram Shirihai.

I am pleased to announce a short interview with the main players of the recent discovery at sea of Fiji Petrel that I reported last week.  Both Had0ram Shirihai and Tony Pym have kindly answered my questions. I meant to send this earlier, but had to leave for Cuzco for a few days.
If you have additional questions to ask Hadoram and Tony, please put them in the comment field and I will forward them.

Hadoram Shirihai (47)

In November 2007  Hadoram Shirihai re-discovered and photographed Beck’s Petrel in the Bismark Archipelago.  Again, he is the main executor of a new major seabird discovery as the news and photos of  Fiji Petrel circulated around the world  yesterday. He has an impressive track record of excellent, very thorough and well researched books already published, such as being author or co-author of major birding literature such as Birds of Israel , Sylvia Warblers and The Macmillan Birder’s Guide to European and Middle Eastern Birds.
In the mid 90’s he started getting more focused on seabirds his extensive travels in the southern seas culminated with the definite reference and guide book for Antarctica and the seabirds in the vicinity with the publication of The complete guide to Antartic wildlife in 2001 with a revised and extended second edition 2008. His travels over the seven seas also resulted in an authoritative guide for marine mammals: Whales, Dolphins, and Other Marine Mammals of the World (Princeton Field Guides)

Hadoram has several on-going book project such as Photographic Handbook for Western Palearctic Birds with Lars Svensson, Photographic Handbook of Birds of the World with Hans Jörnvall for which Hadoram himself has to provide around 5000 species  and the definite work on seabirds that all seabird fanatics are waiting for The Tubenose project. It is this latest project that drives Hadoram to make these far-flung expeditions to search for and photograph seabirds rarely or never previously photographed.

The natural question for seabird “locos” like myself. When is the book coming out, Hadoram?

It probably will be ready for publication in 3 to 4 years, depending when John Cox will end his great plates, but in the meantime Vincent Bretagnolle (my co-author) and I are working on the text, more photo/chumming expeditions and on publication of c. 10 scientific papers… Good books takes time to make, you have to wait if you want a good one… Tony will be happy to answer your other questions.  I am on my way to Brazil…

Hadoram native of Jerusalem, Israel, travels for around 5-6 months per year for his book projects and nowadays calls Zurich, Switzerland his home is coming to Peru next year to continue his photographic work for the Photographic Handbook of the Birds of the World. Kolibri Expeditions is getting the privilege to make all the logistical set-ups.

Tony Pym

Tony Pym is senior guide for Ornitholidays and guide many of their pelagic cruises. He is well renowned among pelagic birders and shares a lot of his sightings and news on the list servers  specialized on pelagics. He also has an excellent web-page on Seabirds and Cetaceans. Since Hadoram is travelling Tony kindly answered my remaining questions.
After the aborted expedition in 2008, how sure were you that you were to try again?

After the problems in 2008, if anything this made us more determined to get back to the area. In fact, there were many more problems than solely mechanical problems with the boat but these are for a future chat, not publication! It was very frustrating for us after much planning to be leaving the South Pacific last year, seeing such good birds in the few days and believing the Fiji Petrel was there, somewhere waiting to be seen. After much discussion between the team we decided on a different timing, the dates being co-ordinated between us with particular reference to the possible breeding season. The paper outlines much more about this and the reasons for working given sea areas.

Was it hard to get paying members to the two expeditions in 2008 and 2009?
There are few amateur seabird enthusiasts who wish to be at sea continuously searching for petrels, and have the money also for the travel and real costs. We needed this money up-front also, so that the boat could be charted and other accommodation/logistics put into place in advance of our arrival. The cost was equally shared, with hopes of some refunds from both company and private support, including that from the main conservation societies (listed in the scientific paper).

How did you manage to keep quiet since May and why?
The team agreed an embargo; to not release any photos or information from seeing the first bird to actual publication of the paper. Everyone had to keep to this for maximum impact on a given date (that day was 11 September). Any release of a photo could take away from both the paper and the announcement.

Was there any particular reason why the announcement comes with the publication?
The BOC agreed that the paper was of sufficient importance for its next issue, as we wanted. From May we had to write the paper – 20 pages has been published – with a deadline for publication in the next bulletin, September. We agreed with the editor that the bulletin, with its scoop, had to be mailed and on subscribers’ doorsteps before we released the press announcement. This was agreed with BirdLife also, and the embargo date agreed was yesterday. On the same day, any postings to Newsgroups, other media could take place. This would give maximum take on the plight of the bird, in the world’s press, resulting in many thousands seeing the photos and notes on the same day. This method meant the likes of BBC, USA-Today, Sky News, AOL and newspapers like the Guardian, Daily Telegraph and other big players in new wires would all have the info at once. Also, we had here the opportunity to advertise the BOC, BirdLife, NatureFiji and others in one big hit.

Who were the members on board in 2008 and 2009?
The team in 2008 were Hadoram, myself, Joerg Kretzscmar, Geoff Jones, Patrick Blomquist, Dick Newell and Dick Watling plus others, mostly Fijians on the ground backing us. In 2009 there was Hadoram, myself, Joerg, Dick Watling and again many backing us on the boat and ashore.

The dark small cockilaria like petrel that got away in 2008. Was it IT? Did Patrick, Geoff and Dick Newell see that one well enough to stay at home this time?
Yes, the small dark petrel could have been the bird, but it was seen only by Hadoram, Jörg and myself. The others did not pick up the bird as it came in at distance, disappeared behind a wave and shot out the other way. So, Geoff, Patric and Dick Newell have not seen Fiji Petrel…unfortunately for them, after their efforts in 2008.

Last question: So what is next? Any other lost species you are going to search for? How do I sign up?
As for future expeditions we are planning at least three more at present, but you’ll have to wait for their announcements within the seabirding community. Suffice to say, all involve very rare seabirds….and the world is a big place!

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Rio Orinoco Spinetail Synallaxis beverlyae

Rio Orinoco Spinetail <i>Synallaxis beverlyae <i/> - new species from Venezuela. Painting from The Auk July 2009, Vol. 126, No. 3, Pages 485–492. Painting by Robin Restall.

Rio Orinoco Spinetail Synallaxis beverlyae - new species from Venezuela. Painting by Robin Restall from The Auk July 2009, Vol. 126, No. 3, Pages 485–492.

Only a few days ago, it was announced of a new species of Babbler from Laos. Today, I got a Facebook note from Dan Zimberlin who said a new species of Spinetail was being described in The Auk from Venezuela. Here is abstract from the publication by Hilty and Ascanio:

We describe a new species of spinetail, Synallaxis beverlyae (Río Orinoco Spinetail), from river island scrub in the lower and middle sections of the main river channel of the Río Orinoco in Venezuela and adjacent Colombia. This taxon has been overlooked previously because river islands were not examined by earlier collecting expeditions. In plumage the species is closest to the widespread Pale-breasted Spinetail (S. albescens), but in vocalizations it is most similar to Dark-breasted Spinetail (S. albigularis), Cinereous-breasted Spinetail (S. hypospodia), and Spix’s Spinetail (S. spixi). The new species is, as far as we know, restricted to scrubby river island vegetation and adjacent river edges that are subject to seasonal inundation. It is presently known only from two well-separated areas but is likely to occur on appropriate intervening islands. The restricted range and narrow ecological requirements of S. beverlyae are a conservation concern.

More new species coming soon.

I started to search the net for pictures of the new bird. I found Chris Sloan’s great pictures from his Venezuela 2007 gallery on pbase showing a picture of the new species. But not only that, the river islands from the lower Orinoco reveal more new species that soon also will be described. But as for now a Softtail and a Wagtail Tyrant still wait to be formally named.  Chris Sloan has agreed to share a few of his pictures. Enjoy! Maybe start planning a trip to Venezuela. Let me know if you do!

Rio Orinoco Spinetail: Chris Sloan
Rio Orinoco Spinetail. Photo: Chris Sloan
Unnamed Wagtail-tyrant at Orinoco River island, Delta Amacuro

Unnamed Wagtail-tyrant at Orinoco River island, Delta Amacuro. Photo: Chris Sloan

The last picture is from Mike Todd from the same trip to Venezuela. Here are Mike’s Venezuela pictures on Pbase. Also a great album of bird shots. Thanks Mike, for letting me use this picture.

Delta Amacuro Softtail - Mike Todd. Yet another new species from the Orinoco river. This one is also soon to be described.

Delta Amacuro Softtail (new un-named species). Photo: Mike Todd. Yet another new species from the Orinoco river. This one is also soon to be described.

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