by Christian Perez
Christian Perez continues his series on Philippine bird books. In this part of the series, we get a sense of the some of the adventures, dangers and thrills that historical figures faced in exploring the Philippines and discovering new species.
The decade from 1870 to 1880 was the most productive in the history of Philippine ornithology. Two major authors, Walden and Sharpe, using the observations of two major explorers, Everett and Steere, would more than double the number of known Philippine endemic species. The period witnessed the glory of the industrial age in the West, and the first stirrings of revolution in the Philippines. The technological advances can be seen in the marked improvement in the quality of bird illustrations starting around the middle of the 19th century. They enabled authors to attach stunningly beautiful illustrations to their bird descriptions with the use of color lithography, or printing with the use of engraved stone plates (usually one plate for each color). It was a major improvement on the steel or copper plate engraving process used in the 18th and early 19th century.
2. Walden: A List of Birds known to inhabit the Philippine Archipelago (1875)
Arthur Hay (1824–1878), known until 1876 as Arthur, Viscount Walden and after that date as Arthur, the ninth Marquis of Tweeddale, was a Scottish soldier and ornithologist. The scientific names of species he named are attributed to Walden up to 1876, and to Tweeddale after that date. I will refer to him as Walden in this article. He was president of the Zoological Society of London from 1868 and had a private collection of birds, insects, reptiles and mammals. The Walden’s Hornbill Aceros waldeni Sharpe 1877 was named after him.
Walden published A List of Birds known to inhabit the Philippine Archipelago in the 1875 issue of Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, under the name Arthur, Viscount Walden, pages 125-252. He describes 218 species, expanding greatly on Martens’ 1866 list. For each species, Walden meticulously provides references from previous publications, and mentions their different binomial and common names in various languages. He discusses in some details the Philippine species that could not be identified in earlier literature, or that had been wrongly attributed to the Philippines. Walden did not consider Palawan and the Sulu Archipelago as part of the Philippines from a zoological point of view and did not include them in his list. This beautifully illustrated paper starts with an interesting history of Philippine ornithology that has been of great help in the preparation of this article. The Philippine Scops Owl Otus megalotis Walden 1875 and Philippine Nightjar Caprimulgus manillensis Walden 1875 were first named in the paper.
Of the 218 species listed, 64 are endemic or near endemic, and around 15 cannot be identified with certainty. Here are interesting notes made by Walden on some of the birds he listed: The Philippine Cockatoo “abounds on Luzon, Guimaras, Negros, in the forests”; the Java Sparrow is “in all likelihood, an indigenous species”; the Beach Stone-curlew “is common in the Philippines”. It is also worth noting that the Island Collared Dove is in the list (in Luzon and Negros) but the Spotted Dove is not.
In the 1872 issue of the Annals and Magazine of Natural History (p 252), Walden had described and named the Yellow-bellied Whistler and Philippine Tailorbird from specimens obtained in Luzon and Guimaras respectively by German ornithologist Adolf Meyer.
In the April 1872 issue of the periodical The Ibis, Walden had published “On Birds recently observed or obtained in the Island of Negros, Philippines” (p 93), together with British diplomat and ornithologist Edgar Layard (1824–1900). They are jointly credited for naming the Yellow-faced Flameback Chrysocolaptes xanthocephalus Walden & Layard 1872.
In 1877 and 1878 Walden published a series of illustrated papers entitled “Contributions to the Ornithology of the Philippines” in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society (PZS) of London, under the name Arthur, Marquis of Tweeddale. Most of the papers present birds collected by British naturalist Alfred Everett (1848–1898), a British civil servant and administrator in Borneo who travelled extensively in the Philippines. Everett’s White-eye and Everett’s Scops Owl were named after him by Walden. Here is a selection of PZS papers with illustrations of Philippine birds, or where new endemic species were named and credited to Tweeddale:
Reports on the Collections of Birds made during the Voyage of H.M.S. “Challenger” (PZS 1877, page 534) naming the Philippine Frogmouth Batrachostomus septimus Tweeddale 1877.
On the Collection made by Mr. A. H. Everett in the Island of Zebu (PZS 1877, page 755) naming Everett’s White-eye, Philippine Leafbird and Cebu Flowerpecker.
On the Collection made by Mr. A. H. Everett in the Island of Mindanao (PZS 1877, page 816), naming Black-headed Tailorbird and Grey-throated Sunbird.
On the Collection made by Mr. A. H. Everett in the Islands of Dinagat, Bazol, Nipah, and Sakuyok (PZS 1878, page 106) with the two illustrations below.
On a new Philippine Genus and Species of Bird (PZS 1878, page 114), naming Flame-templed Babbler from a specimen collected in Negros by Everett.
On a new Species of the Genus Buceros (PZS 1878, page 277), describing and naming the semigaleatus subspecies of Rufous Hornbill from a specimen collected in Leyte by Everett (without illustration).
On the Collection made by Mr. A. H. Everett in the Island of Negros (PZS 1878, page 280), naming the Yellowish White-eye.
On the Collection made by Mr. A. H. Everett in the Island of Leyte (PZS 1878, page 339), naming the Orange-tufted Spiderhunter (not illustrated).
On some Luzon Birds in the Museum at Darmstadt” (PZS 1878, page 429), where Walden writes: “Professor Koch, of Darmstadt, through the obliging intervention of Dr. Brüggemann, has kindly sent to me for examination a small number of birds collected in the vicinity of Manilla by Herr v Othberg.” German zoologist Friedrich Brüggemann is credited for naming the Whiskered Pitta Erythropitta kochi Brüggemann 1876.
On the Collection made by Mr. A. H. Everett in the Island of Palawan (PZS 1878, page 611), naming Spot-throated Flameback, Ashy-fronted Bulbul, Sulphur-bellied Bulbul, Slender-billed Crow and Ashy-headed Babbler.
On the Collection made by Mr. A. H. Everett at Zamboanga, in the Island of Mindanao (PZS 1878, page 936), naming Giant Scops Owl, Everett’s Scops Owl, Mindanao Hawk-Owl, Black-bibbed Cuckooshrike and Philippine Spine-tailed Swift.
In a paper called Descriptions of some new Species of Birds in the 1877 issue of the Annals and Magazine of Natural History, Walden described and named the Silvery Kingfisher, Mindanao Hornbill, Celestial Monarch, Yellowish Bulbul, Olive-backed Flowerpecker, Rusty-crowned Babbler and Handsome Sunbird from specimens obtained by Everett in Mindanao and in Dinagat Island.
In all, Walden named 28 Philippine endemic species from the 245 in the WBCP 2013 Checklist, of which 4 are attributed to Walden and 24 to Tweeddale.
3. A Word on Subspecies
The authors we have reviewed so far did not use the concept of subspecies. Every taxon they described was named as a full species. The lumping of several closely related species into one species with underlying subspecies would happen much later during the 20th century. Some of those subspecies have remained lumped to this day, while some have been split again in recent years.
For example the reader might be wondering how Walden could have named the Mindanao Hawk Owl Ninox spilocephala Tweeddale 1878 since it was only split in 2012 from the Philippine Hawk Owl Ninox philippensis Bonaparte 1855. What happened is that when the Mindanao and Philippine Hawk Owl were lumped together under the same species sometime in the 20th century, the Mindanao Hawk Owl became Philippine Hawk Owl subspecies spilocephala. After the 2012 split the Mindanao Hawk Owl regained its original scientific name and author attribution.
There are many examples of species described by 19th century authors that I don’t mention because they were subsequently lumped in the 20th century and remain lumped today. Since my reference is the WBCP 2013 Checklist, they are just being ignored in this article. Therefore we cannot directly compare the length of historical checklists with today’s checklist. For example Walden lists four species of Colasisi (genus Loriculus) that are now considered one species. Another example is the two species of Balicassiao (genus Dicrurus) listed by Walden that are now considered one species.
4. Sharpe: On the Birds collected by Steere in the Philippine Archipelago (1877)
Richard Bowdler Sharpe (1847-1909) was an English ornithologist. From 1872 he was in charge of the bird collection of the Department of Zoology of the British Museum. In 1877 he published On the Birds collected by Professor J. B. Steere in the Philippine Archipelago in the Transactions of the Linnaean Society of London. Joseph Beal Steere (1842-1940) was an American ornithologist who traveled to the Philippines and the Moluccas from 1874-1875 and collected a large number of bird specimens that he brought to London in 1876.
Here is how Sharpe introduces Steere: “Knowing that Dr. Steere had visited several islands hitherto untrodden by the naturalist, I was prepared to see several new species; but I was indeed surprised at the large number of novelties which he has brought home with him. Forty new species were discovered by him; and there is no doubt that even this number would have been increased but for the severe attacks of a fever which he contracted in Balabac. As it is, however, the results are most considerable, and Dr. Steere will receive the hearty applause of all naturalists for the vigorous way in which he combated the difficulties of climate and personal danger in pursuit of science, and reaped such an abundant harvest in face of these trials. The danger from pirates alone may be estimated from the fact that he collected many of his specimens in the company of native hunters and their dogs — the latter being indispensable companions on an expedition, to give warnings of the approach of piratical Malays. Again, in Basilan it was impossible even to bathe under the shelter of the fort without keeping firearms at hand for personal defense.”
Here is another quote from an article in the August 1876 issue of the periodical Nature: “Leaving Hongkong for Manila, in May 1874, Dr. Steere crossed the island of Luzon by way of Mauban and Lucban to the Pacific, passing some time on the mountain of Ma-hay-hay, near the Laguna de Bay. In July he went by steamer to the colony of Puerto Princesa, on the east side of the island of Palawan, where he stayed a month. Thence he crossed to the island of Balabac and remained a month, afterwards visiting the south-east corner of the island of Mindanao and resting for a month and a half at Zamboanga and the Indian village of Dumalon in the same province. The island of Basilan, lying between Mindanao and the Sooloo group, was next visited; and here he stayed two weeks, after which he returned to Zamboanga, and thence to Manila. In the month of December he again went south, stopping at Ilo Ilo, on the island of Panay, and visiting the mountains in the interior. After a short stay at the neighbouring island of Guimaras he crossed over to Negros, journeying on horseback round the north end of the island; thence in a native boat he traversed the sea to Zebu, which he crossed, till he arrived at the town of the same name, where he took horse again and rode southward, crossing the island once more and passing over the strait to the town of Dumaguete, on the island of Negros. Dr. Steere then went back to Zebu and crossed to the island of Bohol; after passing round part of this island he returned to Zebu and afterwards to Manila, where he visited the Negritos on the north side of the Bay of Manila, leaving finally in April for Singapore.” It reads like a modern extended birding tour!
The following Philippine endemics collected by Steere were first designated by Sharpe in On the Birds collected by Professor J. B. Steere in the Philippine Archipelago in 1877: Wattled Broadbill, Azure-breasted Pitta (Steere’s Pitta), Black-belted Flowerpecker, Buzzing Flowerpecker, Metallic-winged Sunbird, Lovely Sunbird, Magnificent Sunbird, Pale Spiderhunter, Philippine Drongo-Cuckoo, Rufous-lored (Winchell’s) Kingfisher (“This species is named, by Dr. Steere’s request, after his friend, and old tutor, Mr. Winchell”), Walden’s Hornbill, Red-headed Flameback, Philippine Oriole, Mindanao Blue Fantail, Visayan Fantail, Blue Paradise Flycatcher, Rufous Paradise Flycatcher, Palawan Tit, Palawan Bulbul, Zamboanga Bulbul, Rufous-fronted Tailorbird, White-eared Tailorbird, Brown Tit-Babbler, Falcated Wren-Babbler, Sulphur-billed Nuthatch, White-vented Shama and Little Slaty Flycatcher.
In his paper Sharpe describes 139 species collected by Steere and provides a list of 287 known Philippine bird species by adding the newly discovered species to Walden’s 1875 list. Here are some of Steere’s field notes as reported by Sharpe: on the Colasisi “The native names for all these little Parrakeets are Cusi and Culacissi, both being derived from the curious whistle of the birds. They are frequently captured and kept by the natives”; on the Rufous Hornbill: “This Hornbill was plentiful in the above-mentioned mountains [Mount Majayjay]’; and on the Wooly-necked Stork: “This Stork was killed out of a flock of fifteen or twenty individuals as they flew low over the mangroves [in Negros]”.
Sharpe also named the following endemics: Yellow-throated Leafbird in 1877 in the periodical Nature; Palawan Blue Flycatcher in On a Collection of Birds made in Southern Palawan by Mr. E. Lempriere, The Ibis, 1884; Palawan Scops Owl in On a Collection of Birds from the Island of Palawan, The Ibis, 1888, from a specimen collected by English explorer John Whitehead; and Mantanani Scops Owl and Blue-winged Racket-tail in the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club in 1892 and 1893 respectively.
Finally, Sharpe published On a Collection of Birds sent by Mr. Alfred H. Everett from the Sulu Archipelago, The Ibis, 1894, with the two illustrations below.
5. Ramsay: The Ornithological Works of Arthur, ninth Marquis of Tweeddale (1881)
Robert Wardlaw-Ramsay (1852-1921) was a British army officer and naturalist. He was a nephew of Walden and inherited a large collection of over 20,000 bird skins that was later presented to the British Museum. In 1881, three years after Walden’s death, Ramsay published The ornithological works of Arthur, ninth Marquis of Tweeddale, compiling all of Walden’s writings and incorporating a “Revised List of the Birds known to occur in the Philippine Islands”, expanding Walden’s 1875 list from 218 to 379 species, including those that we now consider subspecies.
Here is an introduction to the list: “In this list the islands of Palawan, Balabac, and the Sulu archipelago have been included in the Philippine area, from which they were excluded by Lord Tweeddale in his memoir. It has been thought best, more for the sake of convenience than from any fixed opinion as to whether these islands belong, zoo-geographically speaking, to the Philippines or to Borneo, to include the species recorded from those islands which are not found, so far as is known, in the Philippine area as restricted by Lord Tweeddale. These species are 43 in number and have an asterisk prefixed to their titles. In the manuscript of an introduction to a revised list of Philippine birds, of which Lord Tweeddale was apparently contemplating the publication shortly before his death, he still excludes Palawan, Balabac, and Sulu, on the grounds that insufficient evidence existed to show a Philippine rather than a Bornean affinity in the ornis of those islands, and also that, from the reports on the collections formed there by Mr. A. H. Everett and Dr. Steere, it was proved that Bornean genera and species were rather in the preponderance.”
Ramsey described and named the Blue-breasted Blue Flycatcher Cyornis herioti Ramsey 1886 in Contribution to the Ornithology of the Philippine Islands in the 1886 issue of The Ibis.
Edward Hargitt (1835–1895), a Scottish ornithologist and an expert on woodpeckers, first described and named the Sulu Pygmy Woodpecker Dendrocopos ramsayi Hargitt 1881 in The Ibis. He named the species after Ramsay, who provided the type specimen.
6. Other authors of the period
Jean-Frédéric Oustalet (1844–1905) was a French zoologist employed at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. He named the Flaming Sunbird in 1876 in a French Journal; the Sulu Hawk Owl and Sulu Hornbill in 1880 in the Bulletin Hebdomadaire de l’Association Scientifique de France; the Flame-breasted Fruit Dove Ptilinopus marchei in 1880 in the periodical Le Naturaliste from a specimen sent by French explorer Alfred Marche (“taken in March 1880 in Luzon at an elevation of 300m in the mountains north east of Bayabas; this bird is very rare in its locality”); and the Palawan Hornbill Anthracoceros marchei in 1885, in Le Naturaliste also from a specimen obtained in Palawan by Alfred Marche and named after him.
Tommaso Salvadori (1835-1923) was an Italian ornithologist who first described and named the White-fronted Tit in 1865 in Atti della Società Italiana di Scienze Naturali (Proceedings of the Italian Society of Natural sciences) in Milano; the Yellow-wattled Bulbul in 1870 in Atti della Reale Accademia delle Scienze (Proceedings of the Royal Academy of Science) in Torino (page 509); and the Mindoro Bleeding-heart in 1893 in Catalogue of Pigeons in the British Museum.
During this highly productive decade, 62 new Philippine endemic species were named, doubling the 1870 figure and bringing the total to 126 of the 245 endemic and near endemic species in the WBCP 2013 Checklist. By that time all the main islands had been visited and the list of known Philippine birds represented a wide geographic coverage of the country, mostly in the lowlands. The number was about 380 species based on Ramsey’s 1881 list. The remaining years of the 19th century would continue to be extremely productive as all the remaining nooks and corners of the archipelago would be explored by ornithologists, and in particular the higher elevation areas, as we will see in the next part of this article.
To be continued
Links to previous articles in the series