birding-aus Adventures in New Ireland Part 1

To: "" <>
Subject: birding-aus Adventures in New Ireland Part 1
From: Phil Gregory <>
Date: Fri, 18 Jun 1999 11:36:37 +1000
Hello Russell,
Third time lucky maybe? Thanks
Phil Gregory
Adventures in New Ireland Part 1  
My flight out to Mussau, New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea on the Monday 
had a stressful beginning, as by the time I got to the Air Niugini check-in 
desk, after queuing for 40 minutes, the flight had closed! Luckily a supervisor 
took pity on me as I had a connection to make, and they evicted some poor woman 
off the flight and put me on instead. Arriving at Kavieng, I met up with Jon 
Hornbuckle, Neil Bostock , Barry Wright and Keith Harding, and we took the 
Airlink Islander flight over to Mussau Island, landing on an ancient World war 
2 vintage (and very overgrown airstrip) on Louau Island  in pouring rain. The 
runway surface was like a skating rink, I nearly fell over on it later, I'm 
glad I didn't know that as we came skidding in to land! We sheltered in the 
Airlink Office most of the afternoon, along with half the islanders, deciding 
that the rain was too heavy for us to go over to the main island. We ventured 
out during a lull to go birding along the edge of the airstrip, lured out by a 
black coloured mannikin that flew across, presumably Hunstein's or the New 
Hanover subspecies of that bird, a new record for the area. This was a 
particularly interesting find, a pity we never got a really good view of it and 
couldn't find it again.

I flushed an Ixobrychus Bittern at close range from wet overgrown taro gardens 
along the strip edge, the bird having dark chestnut wing coverts, a black crown 
and dark back, and blackish flight feathers. This fits neither of the PNG 
Ixobrychus but does fit Schrenk's Bittern nicely, a new bird for Australasia!

Rounding the corner of the woodland patch, we found the endemic Mussau Pied 
Monarch and lots of Blue-faced Finches, then flushed a thrush from the track, 
seeing two more a little later. This is the Mussau form of Scaly Thrush 
(Zoothera dauma in Beehler), now classified as a subspecies of Russet-tailed 
Thrush Zoothera heinei but in reality quite possibly something else, no work 
having been done on it. This was an unexpected find at sea level, we had 
thought it might be a hill forest bird, but it proved to be quite frequent in 
secondary woodland and old gardens at sea level on the main island too. The 
bird has indistinct dark pectoral patches on the chest, and a rusty rump and 
upper tail with whitish outer thirds of the outer tail feathers and a plain 
face, plus a quite thin buffish wing bar.

We decided to spend the night on Louau and try to trap a thrush next morning, 
so the villagers kindly put us up in a school house, and brought mattresses and 
bedding for us to use. Next day brought no sign of the Bittern, but we had 
great views of the thrush and the Admiralty Islands endemic Meek's 
Pygmy-Parrot. These were feeding on the trunk of a large tree by the village, 
and leaving large irregular patches on the trunk where the outer bark layer had 
been stripped, presumably as they foraged for insects or perhaps lichen. The 
small island endemic Mackinlay's Cuckoo-Dove was also quite common here.
Going across to Mussau that afternoon, we found the endemic Mussau Rufous 
Fantail in thick secondary scrub close to the village of Palakau, but not 
unduly common, just a couple of pairs being all we saw. We were accommodated in 
the newly built hospital and had meals at the trade store, which proved to be 
our undoing next night. Wednesday morning the local kiap gave us a lift up into 
the hills, as we were interested to find the local subspecies conjuncta of 
Varied Triller, which both Brian Coates and Guy Dutson reckon could be a new 
species. We found it to be quite common above 100m in secondary or cut-over 
forest growth, and a most distinctive bird it is too, differing from Varied 
Triller in 8 key characters:
1. No supercilium
2. Sexes basically the same, though some variation in colour intensity of the 
underparts may be sex linked
3. Virtually no barring on the underparts, just some scaling on the chest by 
the bend of the wing
4. White chin and throat, then a richly coloured lower breast, flanks, belly, 
under tail coverts and vent, either orangey-buff or a quite rich cinnamon, far 
more extensive than the colour on Varied Triller
5. A large white wing patch, very obvious in flight as an irregular patch at 
the base of the primaries
6. A white rump
7. Some white spots on the under tail
8. Far more vocal than Varied Triller, the call of similar pattern but far more 
continuously given, higher pitched, more musical and less raspy.

It is a hill forest bird here, seen in groups of 2 or 3, perching high in the 
trees with a fondness for sparsely leaved Albizzia types. We believe this is no 
way a Varied Triller, but rather a distinct endemic species that may not even 
be closely related to Varied Triller, given the Varied Trillers on both New 
Ireland and Manus are nothing like this bird. It has simply not been studied 
before and few,(maybe only one) museum specimens exist. We also found a nest, a 
mossy cup some 25m up on a forked branch of one of the Albizzia-types. 

We suggest the bird be known as the Mussau Triller, before some Americans get 
to give it an inappropriate English name! Names used here follow PNG usage as 
per Beehler or Coates, the standard New Guinea reference texts, and not the 
often inappropriate or misleading names coined by Clements or Sibley and Monroe 
without consultation of Australasian region birders. We feel strongly that when 
making world checklists, or family monographs, it is only right and proper to 
use the names given in the standard field guides for the country, unless there 
is some overriding reason to change them. We can give numerous examples from 
New Guinea where many species have been arbitrarily renamed by overseas 
workers. If only this simple and courteous naming convention was followed by 
checklist and bird family authors, much less confusion would result.

The form of Bronze Ground Dove here on Mussau has a broad white  eye-ring, a 
very striking feature that I've not seen on this species before.

That night, disaster befell us as all of our gear was stolen from the hospital, 
whilst we were at dinner, including cameras, binoculars, passports and tickets 
and even my Birdquest Trip records. We had our clothes, my copy of Beehler and 
my telescope, which I had fortunately left on its tripod and which was too 
cumbersome to steal. We had got complacent and were lulled into a false sense 
of security by our remote location and friendly people. Thursday was not good, 
wandering forlornly around minus bins, and only brightened when my own camera 
and binoculars were returned that evening, "found in the bush" and duly earning 
a reward for their return, my lucky day it seems. The large skull and 
crossbones engraved on a rock by the creek at Palakau had considerable 
significance for us, probably the original engravers were pirates themselves.

Attachment: sicklebill.vcf
Description: Card for Phil Gregory

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