Saturday, January 16, 2010

Possible New Species Found in Borneo

Spectacled Flowerpecker female / Photo by Richard Webster

Last month I had the occasion to read and review a guide to the birds of Borneo, so I was interested to hear of a possible new species there, the Spectacled Flowerpecker. I was even more intrigued when I learned how it was found. The bird was found by a birder, Richard Webster, visiting the Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Malaysia's Dayum Valley Conservation Area – apparently a well-known birding location – in June 2009. While birding from a raised canopy-walkway and observation platform near the lodge, he saw several familiar flowerpecker species from the platform and then one that was not familiar, so he took photos of it.

Here is how the paper describes the bird:
This flowerpecker showed prominent clean white arcs above and below the eye, creating a broken eye-ring.... A white throat was bordered by a diffuse dusky malar, which was darker than the cheek, and this merged into solid grey sides that were separated by a white stripe from the throat towards the centre of the underparts. The upperparts were medium-slate grey in coloration, with no additional markings, but there were prominent, pure white pectoral tufts emerging from the carpal joint. The eye, bill and legs were all dark.
A day later he returned to the same platform and found a different individual of the same type, except with subtle buffy tones on the underside. The photo at top is of the second bird; photos of the first and second birds can be found at the article. On the following day he returned and found the again. However, David Edwards, one of the co-authors, failed to find the birds on two subsequent visits.

Comparison of the photographs with the available scientific literature produced no identification. The authors then compared the photographs all specimens from Dicaeidae, the flowerpecker family, at the Natural History Museum at Tring, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian Institution. This still failed to produce a match among any known flowerpecker plumages, including juveniles, so the birds observed appear to be a species new to science. They also considered birds from a few other families, but rejected them because of incompatible features.

Given the lack of a type specimen, the authors are unable to confirm it as a new species. The authors suggest the name "Spectacled Flowerpecker," due to the broken eye-ring, and further suggest that it is in the genus Dicaeum because of the bill structure. The Spectacled Flowerpecker appears to be a canopy specialist, as all observations were at 35 m and extensive ground-level surveys (mist-netting and point-counts) by David Edwards have failed to find it. Despite the lack of a type specimen, the authors are publishing anyway in BirdingASIA in the hope that other birders and ornithologists might help by making further observations or obtaining a specimen.

David P. Edwards, Richard E. Webster, and Rose Ann Rowlett. "Spectacled Flowerpecker": a species new to science discovered in Borneo? BirdingASIA 12 (2009): 38-41.