Another belated bird of the week, so this time you get two species, or maybe only one as we’ll see shortly. Welcome, in a nutshell, to the glory of Albatrosses and the nightmare of bird taxonomy, where I’ve been lately trying to help sort out the final bird list for the digital Pizzey and Knight.
Let’s start by comparing the bird in photo #1 with the one in #2, taken within 6 minutes of each another on a pelagic bird-watching trip from Port Fairy in southern Victoria on 22 July 2001. In those days, when life was simple, we called them both Black-browed Albatrosses. I mention the date as only 5 days later a paper was accepted for publication by the Journal of Molecular Biology which supported the splitting of this species into at least two, the Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophris) which nests in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the Campbell Albatross (Thalassarche impavida), endemic to Campbell Island south of New Zealand.
Definitely a spot the difference puzzle and by now you have found the two features visible in birds not in flight: the adult Campbell Island Albatross has a more strongly marked brow, which makes it look crosser, and a pale iris, which, I think, makes it look slightly manic like the Blue-winged Kookaburra. The underwing patterns are different too. The Campbell is much darker with only a faint central band of white as in photo #3, taken off Wollongong in New South Wales.
At even a short distance, the colour of the iris is hard to see, so the underwing pattern is a better field mark for birds in flight, as in the sub-adult Campbell Albatross in photo #4.
Campbell T. impavida if you follow Birdlife International. The different spellings melanophris and melanophrys aren’t typos. Temminck originally spelt it with an ‘i’ but the taxonomists Jouanin and Mougin, Latin scholars obviously, though Temminck couldn’t spell and it should be a ‘y’ and that has been adopted by Birdlife International. C&B uphold the rule that says the original spelling should stand, and stick to the ‘i’.
Welcome to the nit-picking world of bird taxonomy. Does it matter? It does if you want to know how many birds are on your list and it matters if you are a conservationist. Governments are much more willing to provide funds and resources to protect threatened species that they are for sub-species and many of the Albatross types, or taxons, are threatened by long-line fishing. Linnaeus set out in the 18th Century to impose order on a chaotic scientific world with his binomial naming scheme, long before Darwin’s Origin of Species. It’s probably just as well he’s not around to see the result.
Back at the website, I’ve recently finished reformatting the galleries with improved layout, easier navigation and larger photos. I started the process in May 2010 and said then that it would take a long time (over 1,300 galleries) and it’s good to put it behind me. To celebrate, I’m joining the local Birds Australia (BANQ) in Daintree next weekend and then going to Cape York to chase a few species missing from the wanted list for the digital Pizzey and Knight (Trumpet Manucode, Tropical Scrubwren, White-lined and Green-backed Honeyeater). Wish me luck as I’d love to produce the Manucode, one of the 4 species of bird of paradise found in Australia, as a bird of the week. The Daintree weekend includes one or two boat trips on the Daintree River and birding walks, so join us if you can. All are welcome, so check out the details on the BANQ website http://www.birdsaustralianq.org/#Coming .
Whew! Okay, Ian, I think I followed all of that! As I have been saying, this naming and re-naming, splitting and glumping can get confusing. I still contend that Adam had it a whole lot easier. I have been going through those changes when the IOC World Bird List comes about about every 3 months. Keep up the good work, Ian. No matter what you call them, those are fantastic photos of the Albatrosses.
And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.”
(Genesis 1:20 ESV)