Schlagwort-Archive: Tuamotu Archipelago

The enigmatic Washington Island Gadwall

The most mysterious of all the Pacific waterfowl is Coues‘ Gadwall, Anas strepera couesi, only two specimens of which have ever been found, on Washington Island, more than six hundred miles south of Hawaii. The two specimens, the male type and a female, collected in 1874, are now in the U.S. National Museum in Washington. In appearance these birds are simply Gadwalls reduced to about two-thirds normal size. The plumage too is rather dull and somewhat unfinished-looking. Washington Island is a marshy place only a few miles long, with a small brackich lake near the centre and a fringe of palms. Since he original pair of birds were discovered, several expeditions have stopped at the island, but no one has ever seen Coues‘ Gadwall again. Speculation is perhaps unprofitable, but sometimes it is irresistible. I often like to wonder how these birds ever came to Washington Island. It is my guess, for what it is worth, that these two specimens represent the last of a very small inbred breeding population of true Gadwalls which by an accident of migration had become established on the island. I suspect that their size and coloration are due to environment and inbreeding rather than to any genetic change.“ [4]

This account summarizes quite well what’s known about this bird.

Gadwall and Washington Island Gadwall (the smaller bird on the right side)

Depiction from: ‘John C. Phillips: A Natural History of the Ducks. Boston; Houghton Mifflin Company; 1922-1926’

(public domain)

***

Then there are some strange accounts, or rather misinterpretations of accounts, let’s start with one that is rather less known, and speaks of the occurence of a form of gadwall on the Society Islands.:

Forster met with a species of Gadwall on the Society Islands and identified it with A. strepera Linn. It is much more likely that is was C. couesi, for the range of that species doubtless extends beyond Washington Island, the only locality as yet known for it.“ [2]

I read this original account by J. R. Forster, which is completely in Latin, and which merely is a enumeration of species, the duck is mentioned here just as „Anatem streperam„, that’s all, and this account almost for sure refers to the Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa Gmelin), which occurs on the Society Islands, and which is not separately mentioned here … and in fact, Forster mentiones „Anas strepera“ again in an enumeration of birds he describes from New Zealand, this also clearly refers to the Pacific Black Duck! [1]

***

Then there’s another account in a German book, which again is refering to an account in James C. Greenway’S „Extinct and vanishing birds of the world“ from the 1960s.:

Interessant ist eine weitere Bemerkung desselben Autors, wonach nach Angaben von Ripley ein auf den Tuamotu-Inseln gefundenes Entenkücken sich bei Erreichen der Geschlechtsreife als Schnatterente herausstellte.“ 

translation:

Interesting is another comment of the same author [J. C. Greenway], based on which according to Ripley a duckling found on the Tuamotu islands, when reaching maturity, turned out to be a gadwall.“ [6]

***

Okay … after purchasing J. C. Greenway’s book, which took me ages again, I can now proudly present you this abovementioned account by the ominous Ripley.:

But, on the other hand, Dr. S. Dillon Ripley tells me that a duckling taken on the Tuamotu Islands was raised by Charles Nordhoff at Tahiti. When it reached maturity it turned out to be a gadwall.“ [5]

That’s all, we actually deal with hearsay, an account of an account of someone who claimes to have caught a duckling on one of the Tuamotu Islands (these are actually the largest island group in the world consisting of no less than 76 atolls, just by the way ….) without naming the island in question.

However, given the geographic position of Washington Island/Teraina, a former occurence of this bird on the Tuamotu Archipelago makes much more sense than on the Society Islands.

***

But now let’s take a look on what these two persons, Dr. S. Dillon Ripley and Charles Nordhoff, have to tell; we start with Mr. Ripley …:

It sometimes happens that migrating Ducks plummet down on to isolated islands in the Pacific. Mr. Charles Nordhoff told me once that a schooner captain inbound to Tahiti from Flint island, an isolated rock pinnacle three hundred miles or more north towards Hawaii from the Society Islands, brought him a duckling which he had picked up on the island. Mr. Nordhoff was able to raise the bird, and found that it was a Pintail, presumably from wild parents. If Pintails can fly so far south of Hawaii where they are in the habit of wintering, there seems no reason why Gadwalls should not be able to do the same thing.“ [4]

… and go on with Mr. Nordhoff.:

In his article in the Waterfowl number of the AVICULTURAL MAGAZINE, Dillon Ripley mentions a duckling I received some years ago from Flint Island, which when reared proved to be a fine male Pintail. I believe that a good many stray Ducks from the Northern Hemisphere land on the Pacific Islands, and occasionally, as Ripley suggests in the case of Coues‘ Gadwall, give rise to a sedentary and eventually inbred race. I have reliable information that Shovelers in winter plumage have vistited both the Marquesas and the Tuamotu on several occasions, and that Pintail have been seen on Atiu in the Cook Group, south-west of Tahiti.“ [3]

Well, well, so the Tuamotu Islands suddenly has changed into Flint Island, which in fact is not a part of the Tuamotu Archipelago but of Kiribati – and – the duckling that was supposed to turn out being a Gadwall was in fact a Pintail (Anas acuta L.), a completely different species of duck! 

After all, we are left with probably more questions than answers.

*********************

References:

[1] Johann Reinhold Forster; Hinrich Lichtenstein: Descriptiones animalium quae in itinere ad Maris Australis terras per annos 1772, 1773 et 1774 suscepto. Berolini: Ex Officina Academica 1844
[2] Lionel K. Wiglesworth: Aves polynesiae: a catalogue of the birds of the Polynesian subregion (not including the Sandwich Islands). Berlin: R. Friedlaender & Sohn 1891 In: Abhandlungen und Berichte des Königl. Zoologischen und Anthropologisch-Etnographischen Museums zu Dresden Bd. 3: 1-84. 1890/91. herausgegeben von Hofrath Dr. A. B. Meyer, Director des Museums
[3] Charles Nordhoff: Notes on the birds of Tahiti. The Avicultural Magazine ser. 5. 8(5): 119-120. 1943
[4] Dillon Ripley: Pacific Waterfowl. The Avicultural Magazine ser. 5. 8(3): 67-70. 1943
[5] James C. Greenway, Jr: Extinct and vanishing birds of the world. Dover Publications, 2nd Edition 1967
[6] Dieter Luther: Die ausgestorbenen Vögel der Welt. Westarp Wissenschaften 1986

*********************

edited: 28.02.2020

Bruner’s Rail

Bruner’s Rail (Cacroenis inornatus Bruner) is a very enigmatic species of rail supposed to have been endemic to the Tuamotu Archipelago, whose name repeatedly appears in listings of extinct birds and other publications. [4]  

***  

Yet, this species has never existed, but see for yourself.:  

The name first appears in the “Field guide to the birds of French Polynesia” from 1972, obviously the first book about the birds of French Polynesia, and full of errors, some of them bad, others worst. [3]  

The story begins right with the discovery of the Cocos Finch in 1843.: [1][2]  

This bird, which is in all probability a female, is from Bow Island, and is, I believe, the only insessorial form that has been brought from thence. Only a single example was procured, and its principal interest consists in its forming an additional species of a small group of birds inhabiting the Galapagos, to which islands they had hitherto appeared to be peculiar. … 
Bow Island has truly little to boast of in its ornithology, since the only birds seen by us during a residence of six weeks at this Atol coral island were doves, the above new species of Cactornis, plover, a few black and white tern which appear attached to these situations, and herons; and none of these were at all numerous. The Cactornis inornatus was usually noticed about the lowly bushes of Petesia carnea, the succulent fruit of which most probably constitutes its chief food.
”  

***  

Bow- or La Harpe Island, both are old names for the Hao atoll in the middle of the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia, and the plant mentioned in the text, Petesia carnea, is now known as Psychotria carnea (G. Forst.) A. C. Sm., a species that is native to Fiji and Tonga, and that has never existed in the Tuamotu Archipelago.  

***  

The bird is mentioned in the “Field guide to the birds of French Polynesia” [as Cacroenis inornatus] as being confusing and obscure but also as being small, speckled and generally brownish in appearance; it appears in a checklist at the end of the book [this time as Cactornis inornatus] as having been introduced to the Archipelago, which is complete bullsh**!  

***  

The Cocos Finch is now named as Pinaroloxias inornata (Gould), however, how this finch-like tanager finally ended up as a extinct rail species is still not known to me.  

*******************  

[1] John Gould: On nine new birds collected during the voyage of H.M.S. Sulphur. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 11. 103-107. 1843 
[2] John Edward Gray; John Gould; John Richardson; Richard Brinsley Hinds and others: The zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Sulphur: under the command of Captain Sir Edward Belcher, during the years 1836-42. London: Smith, Elder 1843-1846 
[3] Phillip L. Bruner; O. G. Dykes: Field guide to the birds of French Polynesia. Bishop Museum Press 1972 
[4] Greg Sherley; Rod Hay: Review of avifauna conservation needs in Polynesia. Bird Conservation Priorities and a Draft Avifauna Conservation Strategy for the Pacific Islands Region 10-17. 1999  

********************

Cocos Finch (Pinaroloxias inornata), female  

Depiction from: ‚John Edward Gray; John Gould; John Richardson; Richard Brinsley Hinds and others: The zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Sulphur: under the command of Captain Sir Edward Belcher, during the years 1836-42

(public domain) 

*******************  

edited: 26.09.2018