by Christian Perez
Christian Perez continues his fascinating series on Philippine bird books. Part 6 covers the American Period. The Philippine government goes from having no interest in natural science under the Spanish rule to having a Division of Ornithology under the Americans! Along with listing which species were discovered during this period, Christian also gives us peek back into time where we can imagine what it was like to go birding then, when Bleeding-hearts were common and Spot-billed Pelicans were abundant.
The beginning of the American administration period was marked by American naturalists’ excitement at the discovery of “our new territories”. In contrast to the Spanish period, there was much official interest in natural sciences and ornithology. Explorer and zoologist Dean Worcester first arrived in the Philippines in 1887 as an ornithologist long before the American occupation and became Secretary of the Interior of the Philippine Government Commission from 1901 to 1913. He established a Division of Ornithology at the Bureau of Science in 1901. With an ornithologist in that powerful position, it was certainly much easier to obtain official backing for exploration trips to remote area of the country.
The 1930s witnessed a strong Japanese presence in the Philippines. It is therefore no surprise that the most important Philippine bird book of the period was written by a Japanese ornithologist. This was also a time when authors started to lump the previously described species into a much smaller number of species with underlying subspecies. This great lumping era would continue until the end of the century.
1. Clarke: On some Birds of the Island of Negros (1900)
William Eagle Clarke (1853-1938) was a British ornithologist who described and named the Negros Bleeding-heart Gallicolumba keayi in an article entitled On some birds of the island of Negros, in The Ibis, 1900, where he writes: “Notwithstanding the extremely unsettled state of affairs in the Philippine Archipelago, my friend Mr. W. A. Keay returned to his sugar-plantation on the east coast of the island of Negros in February 1899, and remained there for several months, as he has done for the past twenty years. During this sojourn, in spite of many distracting influences, Mr. Keay obtained a considerable number of birds. […] It is somewhat remarkable that this species should have remained so long undetected, for Mr. Keay tells me that he has known it for nearly twenty years, and has on several occasions kept examples in cages as pets. Mr. Keay further informs me that the bird is fairly common in the woods, but comes regularly to the river to drink, and is then captured by the ‘boys’. The native name is ‘Penes’. It gives me great pleasure to name this beautiful Pigeon after Mr. Keay, as a small recognition of the services he has rendered to Philippine ornithology.”
2. Hartert: Bulletin of British Ornithologists’ Club (1903)
Ernst Hartert (1859-1933) was a German ornithologist and ornithological curator of his private museum at Tring from 1892 to 1929. This is an extract of the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club in 1903: “Mr. Ernst Hartert exhibited and described some new species of birds, mostly discovered by Mr. Walter Goodfellow on Mt. Apo, a very high volcano in Southern Mindanao. The collection made by Mr. Goodfellow was only small, because his principal object during the ascent of Apo was to obtain specimens of living birds, but in the small collection there were some most remarkable new forms.” Hartert then describes and names the Mindanao Lorikeet Trichoglossus johnstoniae with the following words: “This handsome Lory is named after Mrs. M. A. Johnstone, who is well known as an aviculturist and especially successful in breeding parrots in captivity.” He also named the Black-and-cinnamon Fantail, Mindanao (Black-masked) White-eye, Apo Myna, and Cinnamon Ibon.
Walter Goodfellow was a British zoological collector and ornithologist. He collected specimens for museums, but later concentrated on capturing live birds for private aviaries. He took great care of his caged birds and refused to participate in the extensive trade in dead birds for women’s fashions. He travelled extensively throughout the world including the Philippines.
In the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club in 1904 Hartert named the Olive-capped Flowerpecker from a specimen collected by John Waterstradt on Mount Apo. Waterstradt was a Danish ornithologist and collector who spent many years in Borneo and visited Mindanao in 1903. Waterstradt had also collected the Mindanao Racket-tail Prioniturus waterstradti that was described by Walter Rothschild in the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club in 1904. Walter Rothschild (1868-1937), a scion of the wealthy Rothschild family, was a British banker, politician, and zoologist, and a Member of Parliament from 1899 to 1910.
3. Mearns: Descriptions of a new genus and eleven new species of Philippine birds (1905)
Edgar Alexander Mearns (1856-1916) was an American ornithologist and a co-founder of the American Ornithologists’ Union in 1883. He wrote Descriptions of a new genus and eleven new species of Philippine birds in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington in 1905, where he described and named the Bagobo Babbler Leonardina woodi (“This genus and species are named in honor of Major-General Leonard Wood, U. S. Army, who, as Governor of the Moro Province, has encouraged every form of scientific effort in the Southern Philippine Islands”) and the Apo Sunbird Aethopyga boltoni (“This beautiful Sun-Bird was seen on Mount Apo from Todaya, 4,000 feet altitude, to the actual summit. It sometimes fluttered in front of flowers like a Hummingbird. It is named in honor of First Lieutenant Edward C. Bolton, U. S. Army, Military Governor of Davao District, Mindanao, whose assistance enabled the author to reach the summit of Mount Apo.”). He also described the Rufous-headed Tailorbird in Descriptions of eight new Philippine Birds in the same periodical, also in 1905.
Mearns described the McGregor’s Cuckooshrike Coracina mcgregori in Descriptions of a new genus and nine new species of Philippine birds in 1907 in the Philippine Journal of Science, the first time a new species was named in a Philippine publication. Mearns writes: “Since the publication of several papers on Philippine birds in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, in the year 1905, I have continued my explorations in the Philippine Islands, with the result that several new forms have been added to the Philippine avifauna, some of which are described in the present paper. In identifying my birds I have had the use of the personal library of Commissioner Dean C. Worcester; and I am indebted to […] Mr. Richard C. McGregor for every facility afforded by the collections and library of the Bureau of Science, in Manila.”
4. Oberholser: A Monograph of the Genus Collocalia (1906)
Harry Oberholser (1870-1963) was an American ornithologist and curator of ornithology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. He published A Monograph of the Genus Collocalia in the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1906, where he first described and named the Ameline Swiftlet as a subspecies Collocalia unicolor amelis. This is the first publication where a Philippine bird was designated as a subspecies with the use of a trinomial instead of a binomial. The bird is now known as Aerodramus amelis Oberholser 1906. In a paper published in Proceedings of the United States National Museum in Washington in 1912, he described and named the Philippine Swiftlet also as a subspecies Collocalia fuciphaga mearnsi, now known as Aerodramus mearnsi. It was “dedicated to Dr. (Lieut. Col.) Edgar A. Mearns, the well-known explorer, who collected the entire series of specimens in the U. S. National Museum.”
5. McGregor: A Manual of Philippine Birds (1909)
Richard McGregor (1871-1936 in Manila) was an American ornithologist. This is an extract from an article in his memory in the April 1938 issue of The Auk: “At the time of his death he was editor of the ‘Philippine Journal of Science’ and Chief of the Publicity Division of the Department of Agriculture and Commerce. He had been connected with the Bureau of Science practically continuously since its establishment in 1902, thus over a period of nearly thirty-five years. While during most of this period carrying the title of Ornithologist, he served from time to time also as Acting Director; but he avoided executive advancement, always preferring to expend his outside time and energy in pursuit of his major field of interest, ornithology.” It seems that his life was all about birds.
McGregor was accompanied in his travels around the country by his Filipino assistant Andres Celestino, who had also been collecting for John Whitehead in the past. The Small Buttonquail subspecies Turnix sylvaticus celestinoi McGregor 1907 was named after him. His son Manuel Celestino was also a bird collector and had the subspecies Coppersmith Barbet Megalaima haemacephalia celestinoi named after him.
McGregor published A Manual of Philippine Birds in Manila in 1909. This was a major 769-page book with extensive descriptions of 739 species using for the first time English common names, and indicating local names in Philippine languages when available, although without any illustration. McGregor continues to consider every taxon a full species and does not use subspecies. Therefore the high number of 739 species cannot be compared with the number in the current WBCP 2014 Checklist as many of McGregor’s species are now considered subspecies.
Regarding the Island Collared Dove, McGregor states that: “Dussumier’s Dove (Island Collared Dove) occurs in nearly every island of the group; it is partial to open lowland country.” And about the Spotted Dove: “The Malay spotted dove (Spotted Dove) occurs in small numbers as a winter visitant in Balabac and Palawan.” This was the first appearance of the Spotted Dove in a Philippine bird list. We know now that within 100 years, the Spotted Dove would have almost entirely displaced the Island Collared Dove in the Philippines.
In 1906, McGregor and Worcester had jointly published A Hand-list of the Birds of the Philippine Islands in Manila. This list without English common names shows the island distribution of each species and was certainly the basis for the preparation of McGregor’s major work A Manual of Philippine Birds in 1909. In 1922, together with Elizabeth Marshall, he published Philippine Birds for Boys and Girls with illustrations by Filipino artist Macario Ligaya. I have not been able to locate a copy of that book.
McGregor named the Worcester’s Buttonquail Turnix worcesteri in the Bulletin of Philippine Museum in 1904 in honor of Dean Worcester, with the following notes: “Adult female, Philippine Museum Collection. Purchased in Quinta Market, Manila, August 30, 1902. Probably from Parañaque, Luzon. […] This bird is known to us from the type specimen purchased in the market where it was found with others of the same genus. It is readily distinguishable from any other Luzon Turnix by its very deep, short bill.”
He named the Bohol Sunbird in Philippine Journal of Science in 1907 with the notes: “Bureau of Science Collection; Guindulman, Island of Bohol, P. I.; June 4, 1906; McGregor, Celestino, and Canton, collectors.”
He named the Flame-crowned Flowerpecker in Philippine Journal of Science in 1914 with the notes: “Bureau of Science collection. Polis Mountain, Ifugao subprovince, Luzon, P. I. Collected February 7, 1913, by R. C. McGregor and A. Celestino. […] The type and only specimen was collected in the mossy forest near the summit of the Government trail between Banaue and Bontoc, within a few meters of the rest house on the Banaue side. The elevation of the rest house is about 2,000 meters.”
6. Hachisuka: The Birds of the Philippine Islands (1931)
Japanese ornithologist Masauji Hachisuka (1903-1953), a nephew of the last shogun Prince Tokugawa, visited the Philippines from 1st January to 5 April 1929 together with Y. Nakamura from the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture. During his stay he visited the environs of Manila, went to Baguio, Davao, where he climbed Mt Apo, Zamboanga and Basilan. He was a member of the Ornithological Society of Japan and the British Ornithologists’ Union.
He published The Birds of the Philippine Islands with Notes of the Mammal Fauna in London from 1931 to 1935. This is large four-volume 900-page illustrated work. The book starts with a substantial section on the ornithological history of the Philippines, which was of great help to me in the preparation of this article, followed by an extensive account of his journey in the Philippines. Hachisuka then provides detailed descriptions of 577 species and subspecies. He lumped many of the previously known species listed by McGregor, with a resulting species count of 395. For each species and subspecies he provides an English name, local names, historical taxonomic references, distribution, physical description, and general notes. Most species are beautifully illustrated in color or black-and-white. Surprisingly the book is not complete, a major shortcoming for a work of this magnitude. Entire families such as Shrikes, Drongos, Crows, Tits, Tailorbirds, White-eyes, Sunbirds and Flowerpeckers are missing.
In 1929 the Ornithological Society of Japan published in Tokyo Hachisuka’s Contributions to the birds of the Philippines, in the form of two small volumes. The first volume, dated December 1929, covers geography, history, bibliography and distribution, while the second volume, dated January 1930, provides a complete list of Philippine birds with rather limited information. This was the precursor of Hachisuka’s major work.
Some of Hachisuka’s general notes make for an interesting read, for example:
Red Jungle Fowl: “Their flesh is usually tender, and more savory than that of the domestic birds”.
Mindoro Imperial Pigeon: “It is not only my personal view, but many ornithologists agree, that the present bird is one of the most magnificent Pigeons known.”
Island Collared Dove: “Occurs on nearly every island of the group, and is abundant in many localities.”
Spotted Dove (called Palawan Spotted Dove): “Whitehead says it is scarce and very local in Palawan.”
Luzon Bleeding-heart: “This beautiful dove is often found in the Manila markets; it is a well-known favorite of the Spaniards.”
Black-necked Grebe: “The first and only record from the Philippines was shot by myself on a fish-pond at Laguna in early January 1930, where Philippine [Little] Grebes and Moorhens are extremely common.”
Sarus Crane: “This Crane is abundant in the vicinity of Cabanatuan, where they were observed feeding in pairs and frequenting grassy plains. This species has been reported from Candaba swamps in Central Luzon.”
Philippine Duck: “The Philippine Mallard is extremely rare and is seldom seen, although reported from various islands.”
Spot-billed Pelican: “At certain seasons is abundant about fish-breeding ponds and in tide-water marshes In Luzon and Mindanao.”
Oriental Darter: “Exceedingly abundant about Lake Naujan in Mindoro.”
Rufous Hornbill: “Extremely abundant on the hills behind Catbalogan, in Samar. Sometimes comes down into the mangrove swamps near the town.”
Philippine Trogon: “Abundant from Luzon to Basilan. It is a stupid bird and easily shot.”
The Green-faced Parrotfinch was described and named by Hachisuka and Delacour in Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club in 1937 with the following notes: “Male, vicinity of Manila, Luzon, Philippine Islands. Specimen sent alive to California, August 1935; died November 10, 1936.”
The Grey-hooded Sunbird was described and named by Hachisuka in Bulletin of the Biogeographical Society of Japan in 1941.
7. Other authors of the period
Alphonse Dubois (1839-1920) was a Belgian ornithologist and curator of the department of vertebrates at the Royal Museum of Natural History in Brussels. He named the Lemon-throated Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus cebuensis in Synopsis Avium, published in Brussels in 1900, specifying that it was collected in Cebu.
William Sclater (1863-1944) was a British zoologist and museum director. He named the Philippine (Barred) Honey Buzzard Pernis steerei in the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club in 1919 as a subspecies Pernis celebensis steerei from an old specimen that had been collected by Steere in 1888.
German naturalist and ornithologist Erwin Stresemann (1889-1972) described the Palawan Frogmouth Batrachostomus chaseni in 1937 in Mitteilungen aus dem Zoologischen Museum in Berlin (Proceedings of the Berlin Zoological Museum) and named it after English zoologist Frederick Chasen (1896-1942). He also wrote Entwicklung der Ornithologie von Aristoteles bis zur Gegenwart in 1951, a review of the development of ornithology from Aristotle to modern times, translated into English in 1975 as Ornithology from Aristotle to the Present.
The number of newly discovered endemic species was not as high during the American period as in the previous period, simply because there was much less left to discover. However, the period was marked by an increase in the detailed knowledge of bird distribution and behavior, although the knowledge of migration patterns was still quite rudimentary. By 1941, 219 of the current 245 Philippine endemic or near-endemic species had been described and named. The Second World War was obviously not conducive to ornithological exploration, but the years following the war saw another explosion of ornithological activities and publications, and the birth of birdwatching in the Philippines, as we will see in the next and last part of this article
to be continued
A Short History of Philippine Bird Books – Part 1
A Short History of Philippine Bird Books – Part 2 Remainder of the 18th Century
A Short History of Philippine Bird Books – Part 3 Early 1820s to late 1860s
A Short History of Philippine Bird Books – Part 4 the 1870s
A Short History of Philippine Bird Books – Part 5 1881 to 1899