Fw: Pacific Swallow status in Australia (Long)

To: "BIRDING-AUS" <>, "Lloyd Nielsen" <>
Subject: Fw: Pacific Swallow status in Australia (Long)
From: "Mike Carter" <>
Date: Wed, 22 Feb 2006 11:15:38 +1100

A previous attempt to post this on BIRDING-AUS failed. I hope this reduced version succeeds! 
{I am forwarding the following note on behalf of Tony Palliser, chairman of BARC. It was drafted after consultation with other committee members.}  
Following the note from Lloyd Nielsen regarding the status of Pacific Swallow in North Queensland and in particular BARC case number 197, as chair of BARC (Birds Australia Rarities Committee) I would like to take this opportunity to respond to some of the comments and correct some inaccuracies. Firstly, BARC did not conclude that the birds were female Welcome Swallows (although Dick Schodde did), we simply concluded that we couldn't accept them as Pacific Swallows. Secondly, BARC did not ignore the evidence of the sonograms - we were never received them.
Also, I wish to point out that although two years may seem a long time, this was a very complex and difficult case and considerable effort was exerted during this period to ensure that our facts were correct. We examined lots of specimens (including their mantle feathers) before reaching our decision. 
That said, additional information regarding Hirundo tahitica albescens might put a different complexion on our assessment. But as mentioned in the case summary, there is still the problem that the Queensland birds had tail feathers 15 - 20 mm longer than any known race of Pacific Swallow. However, as pointed out by Lloyd, there is the possibility that one day these birds might prove to be a new race of Pacific Swallow. 
At this point I don't think reopening the original case is the best approach. But perhaps a new case should be submitted after the publication of HANZAB when we will all have access to more facts. 
The following account from Australian Birding June 2000 (Vol 6 part 2, page 31) may also be useful during the information gathering process:

Swallows in northern Torres Strait, Queensland by Peter Lansley

Some workers familiar with the birds of Torres Strait and the New Guinea region have either overlooked, doubted, or regarded as unconfirmed, the occurrence of Welcome Swallow Hirundo neoxena in northern Torres Strait, though it is a regular visitor to southern Torres Strait Islands (Draffan et al. 1983; Schodde & Mason 1999). Gregory (1997) suggested that vagrants recorded from islands ‘only a couple of km off the shore of New Guinea’ would be better documented in Muruk, the journal dealing with New Guinean birds. Though Gregory did not mention Welcome Swallow per se, it is obviously one of the species he alluded to, since it is a vagrant to New Guinea proper with only two records near Port Moresby (Coates 1990). The species has now been recorded in north-western Torres Strait twice. I here provide further details of one swallow I saw in a flock on Saibai Island in July 1996 (Lansley 1997), that was clearly an adult male Welcome Swallow. The bird was a typical swallow, glossy blue-black above and dirty white below, rusty on the throat and face. It had a deeply forked tail, with the outermost feathers forming long streamers, though not as long as on a Barn Swallow H. rustica. The combination of the long outer tail streamers and dirty white breast and belly, rule out Pacific H. tahitica and Barn Swallows respectively. The other birds present lacked long outer tail feathers. Mike Carter has since seen Welcome Swallows at Boigu Island (Carter 1999). That Welcome Swallows occur in northern Torres Strait at least as wintering visitors, throws doubt on previous claims of Pacific Swallow occurring there, particularly since Schodde & Mason (1999) recently described a new subspecies of the latter, H. t .albescens, from the Trans-Fly region of New Guinea. This raises the level of detail required to separate the two taxa H. neoxena and H. tahitica in Torres Strait and southern New Guinea. Previously Pacific Swallows claimed to occur in Torres Strait were considered to be H. t. frontalis (e.g. Mayr 1934).

Schodde & Mason (1999) include Pacific Swallow in their work on the basis of claims at Saibai Island or Torres Strait (Sharpe 1885; Mayr 1934; Draffan et al. 1983; Storr 1984) and a sighting by L. Edwards. However, Sharpe (1885) refers to specimens that are of questionable provenance and two records (Mayr 1934; Storr 1984) appear based on secondary reports and furnish no detail other than locality. The Draffan et al. (1983) sightings are tentative and the Edwards sighting(s) has never been submitted to Birds Australia Rarities Committee (BARC). Several observers, including myself, have seen swallows possibly referable to H. t. albescens on Saibai Island and Boigu Island (Draffan et al. 1983; Lansley 1997; Carter 1999; L. Edwards cited in Schodde & Mason 1999) but no one appears to have distinguished them from migrant, female-type short-tailed Welcome Swallows. I therefore contend that insufficient evidence currently exists for Pacific Swallow to be admitted to the Australian birdlist. The sightings at Mossman, north Queensland, of Pacific-like female Welcome Swallows (BARC case 197), show that even when birds are photographed in the hand and some measurements taken, identification of these taxa can be especially tricky. I certainly agree with Schodde & Mason (1999) that Pacific Swallow is likely to occur regularly in northern Torres Strait, so now the challenge is for someone to prove it, by properly documenting their sighting(s).


Mike Carter
30 Canadian Bay Road
Mt Eliza    VIC     3930
Ph:  (03) 9787 7136

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