Ian’s Bird of the Week – Long-tailed and White-winged Trillers ~ by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter – 9/5/16
Here is a comparison of a New Caledonian species with a related Australian one in order to unsubtly bring to your attention a talk I’m giving on New Caledonian birds to Birding NSW this coming Tuesday 6th September at 7:30pm in Sydney. It’s in the Mitchell Theatre of the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts, Level 1, 280 Pitt Street between Park and Bathurst. The talk is entitled “Birds of New Caledonia: from strangely familiar to very strange” and arises from a visit to New Caledonia last year.
Many of the very strange birds featured as Birds of the Week in the second half of 2015, so here is a species familiar to Australian birders, the White-winged Triller and a rather similar one that occurs in New Caledonia, the Long-tailed Triller. Trillers are small relatives of the Cuckooshrikes and both groups are members of the Oriental-Australasian family the Campephagidae (“caterpillar gluttons”).
The White-winged is the more widespread of the two Australian Trillers, occurring throughout Australia. It is a summer breeding visitor to southern Australia and Tasmania, but present all year in northern Australia. Some of the migrants end up in southern New Guinea in the southern winter and vagrants have turned up in Lord Howe Island and New Zealand. Breeding males are black, grey and white (first photo) with black heads down as far as just below the eye, while females are brown and white with a buff supercilium (eyebrow) as in the second photo.
Non-breeding adult males (third photo) have an ‘eclipse’ plumage which looks more like the brown female including the pale supercilium but retaining the black flight feathers on the wings. Juveniles look fairly like the brown females but young males are intermediate between the juveniles and the eclipse males. This variability is a challenge for taxonomists, particular as there are close related populations in Indonesia and the Philippines which differ mainly in the amount of white on the wings in adult males and may or not be different species (White-shouldered and Pied Trillers respectively).
In New Caledonia, there is one resident and quite common species, the Long-tailed Triller, which also occurs in Vanuatu and the southern Solomons. This species is about the same size as the White-winged Triller (17cm/7in) and the males differ from it in the amount of white on the wings, though individuals are variable. Females are similar, but have slightly brownish upperparts and buff on the white wing patches. I identified the one on the main island (Grande Terre) in the fourth photo as a male and the one on Ouvea in the fifth as a female, but now I’m not sure, particularly as these are of two different races and the field guides and handbooks are not very enlightening.
Incidentally, the Long-tailed Triller was first described from Norfolk Island where it, the nominate race, is now extinct. Does that make it an Australian Triller?
This all got a bit more involved than I’d intended. I had just wanted to illustrate similarities between Australian and New Caledonian birds, something I found very interesting. In case it leaves you cold and I’ve put you off coming to the talk, here is a reminded of the legendary Kagu which was our main target and should be on every birder’s bucket list. This is at the opposite end of the scale of taxonomic divergence, is the sole member of its family and shares its order with only one other species from South and Central America, the Sunbittern. Now that’s a challenge for evolutionary taxonomists and biogeographers!
If you are at the meeting in Sydney next Tuesday, I’ll look forward to meeting you.
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 firstname.lastname@example.org
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/
Where to Find Birds in Northern Queensland: iTunes; Google Play Kobo Books
Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au
Wow! Some more neat birds from their creator for you to show us. Thanks, Ian.
Campephagidae Family Photos by Ian