fig parrots

To: <>
Subject: fig parrots
From: "Roberts, Greg" <>
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2007 11:05:44 +1100
Back in November, Andrew Thelander wondered if I was "red-faced'' over a report 
in The Courier Mail newspaper that John Young had discovered a new species or 
subspecies of fig-parrot in southern Queensland.

I was a tad taken back - until then, I had never heard of Andrew Thelander. My 
sin, it transpired, is that some time earlier, I had raised questions about 
whether Coxen's fig-parrots survived in southern Queensland and northern NSW.

The fig-parrot saga has come a distance since then.

For starters, let's note what Dick Schodde, the leading authority on the 
taxonomy of rainforest birds in Australia and New Guinea, has had to say about 
this. Dick points out that there are no examples of two closely related bird 
taxa occurring together in southern Queensland-northern NSW. So he considers 
that for this reason alone, it is most unlikely for Coxen's and this "new'' 
parrot to be co-existing.

So are we expected to believe that in addition to Coxen's, there is a hitherto 
unknown fig-parrot flying around that everyone except John has overlooked?

Some have suggested that his parrot is actually an adult male Coxen's. Their 
theory is that there are no such birds in collections. However, the statistical 
likelihood of this very low. Moreover, Glen Holmes, who knows more about 
fig-parrot identification than most, has indicated that the bill of John's bird 
is all wrong for Coxen's; it is the wrong size and of the wrong proportions.

We have John's photograph.  That has generated substantial debate. As has been 
reported, Gale Spring, a leading authority on forensic authority, has grave 
doubts. They mostly concern marked differences between the texture of head 
feathers and body feathers. There are problems with surface imaging, and Gale 
considers that the head colours are too intense. Similar concerns have been 
expressed by, among others, Jeff Davies, Andrew Isles and Mike Carter.

We come to the pin feathers which John  says he collected from baby parrots for 
DNA analysis. It seems they have disappeared.  Queensland's Environmental 
Protection Agency says that to its knowledge, "no genetic material, including 
feathers, has been collected in the wild''. This is the same agency, by the 
way, which just three months ago insisted that there was such material, and 
that it would prove the existence of John's new bird.

We've been on this merry-go-round before. Back in the mid-1990s, John claimed 
to have photographed either - depending on who he spoke to - a Coxen's 
fig-parrot or a previously undescribed fig-parrot. Those who saw his pictures, 
such as John Martindale, were not convinced. It's worth remembering also that 
in the late-1980s, John claimed to have rediscovered the paradise parrot in 
north Queensland - way out of its original range.

Now The Courier Mail reports that a Brisbane man with no birding experience has 
had one of John's new parrots fly into his window. A cat has eaten the dead 
bird. Is this what we've been reduced to?

That sort of stuff is not that far removed from the argument that because John 
spends so much time in the rainforest canopy - filming riflebirds, looking for 
sooty owl nests (now that's another story) or whatever - he finds things the 
rest of us don't. That may be true of orchids or bugs, but fig-parrots are not 
grasswrens. They may be inconspicuous when feeding but they are noisy little 
blighters in flight.

The bottom line of this saga is a no brainer. John in recent weeks has been 
given several opportunities to have his photographs (there are several, he 
claims) examined by an independent assessor. Gale Spring offered to do so under 
the supervision of John Young Wildlife Enterprises (a commercial company) so 
there was no possibility of copyright infringement, or any other  difficulties 
from their perspective..

That would solved the matter quickly and unequivocally, but these offers have 
been refused. No reasons have been offered. With so much at stake, why?

There are a few fig-parrot-related red faces about the place. Mine is not one 
of them.

Greg Roberts

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