Saturday, June 30, 2018

Birding in the South Pacific

The South Island of New Zealand, has long been home to a beautiful black and white cormorant with the cool name of Otago shag (Leucocarbo chalconotus).  Birders and scientists wondered for a long time whether a mistake had been made in the 1800s when classifying the birds as one species: there were differences in plumage, skeleton, and more.  In 2016, the record was straightened out by naming  the Foveaux shag (Leucocarbo stewarti).  
By some estimates, about two-thirds of new vertebrates come from museum drawers or reclassifications, rather than being newly identified in the field. That doesn't mean we are not still spotting new ones all over the place - just less often, in fewer places, than in the last century.  The Australian snubfin dolphin and Omura's whale are recent reclassifications of large to VERY large animals, and orcas of course continue to drive cetologists to distraction: there may be ten valid "ecotypes," which may or may no be species or incipient species.
Speaking of new birds and wonderful names, the birds of paradise have captivated humans since earliest times (which included some later times when ladies wore them for hats, not a good deal at all for the birds).  Anyway, over in New Guinea in 2018, a new species was identified by, among other things, having a different courtship dance than the bird it had been lumped in with.  From the west end of the island, in an area known as the Vogelkop ("Birds Head") region, the Vogelkop Superb Bird-of-Paradise has been named.  The original species, the Superb Bird-of-Paradise, also got an upgrade to make the names more distinct, to the Greater Superb Bird-of-Paradise. Those are pretty fancy labels to live up to. I hope the birds are polishing their dance steps.
Link above is on this bird is to Science Daily: The original journal article is 
Edwin Scholes, Timothy G. Laman. Distinctive courtship phenotype of the Vogelkop Superb Bird-of-Paradise Lophorina niedda Mayr, 1930 confirms new species statusPeerJ, 2018; 6: e4621 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.4621 

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