Sunday, December 27, 2015

C19 Nestling specimens from different clutches

The images below are of nestling Western Ground Parrots from Gould's collection, but held in two different museums. It would also appear that the birds came from different clutches as the Drexel juvenile (one bird) has more down and less-developed feathers.

The bulk of the Gould collection of Australian birds is housed in the Drexel University, Philadelphia (see previous two postings). Unfortunately there is little documentation regarding location of this specimen except 'Western Australia'. It is likely that it was collected by John Gilbert, as he did collect in Western Australia for Gould. No documentation has been found as to a more specific location though John Gilbert was familiar with Western Ground Parrots, having collected indigenous names for them from four regions in Western Australia.

The photo of the Drexel juvenile was supplied by Nate Rice of Drexel University, Philadelphia and is used with permission.

The two side by side nestlings are part of the British Museum of Natural History collection. There is more detail about these specimens in the postings of August 14 and 21, 2015.

The image is COPYRIGHT Natural History Museum.

Liverpool Museum,did have a nestling but it has been lost. Clemency Fisher of the Liverpool Museum supplied the following information. 

The entry from 13th Earl of Derby's Stock book for specimen D640d is "Nestling purchased off Gould Feb. 8 1844.From the sandplain near the ...... Hills, Australia."

Dr Fisher believes that the missing word is 'Wongan' or a permutation of that name and that the missing chick was part of the same clutch as that now held in the British Museum of Natural History.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Gould specimens in Philadelphia

The three Western Ground Parrot skins from the Gould Collection held in the Academy of Natural Science, Drexel University, Philadelphia are pictured below. How the collection came to be there is described in the previous posting.

Gould Collection ANSP 22980 Original no. 218 Western Australia Male
Gould Collection ANSP 22981 Original no. 219 Western Australia Undetermined gender
Gould Collection ANSP 22977 Original no. 223 Western Australia Undetermined gender, Juvenile

All four images below were supplied by Nate Rice, Drexel University, and are used with permission.

The birds are arranged 980, 981, and 977. Although only the male is formally determined as such, the other adult bird is clearly a female. Its beak shape and the streaks and blotches on the throat and upper breast are typical of female Western Ground Parrots. Males are usually larger than females as is the case here. The Juvenile appears to have the male beak shape.

The original labels were replaced and so if there was more specific information on when and where the birds were taken from the wild, and by whom, it is not now available. 

The photo below is the male bird, showing the red feathering above the nostrils (a mature bird), the broad ridge of the upper bill (male), the fine dark streaks on the throat and upper breast (adult male). 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Location of John Gould's collection of Australian birds

John Gould's comprehensive collection of Australian birds is housed in the Academy of Natural Sciences, Drexel University, Philadelphia. How this came about is described in the article below, which appeared in The Emu, Volume 38, October 1938. The Emu is the journal of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union (now Birdlife Australia).

This major Gould collection includes three Western Ground Parrot specimens. 

Several other Gould specimens of Australian birds, presumably duplicates, are in various locations having been sold or swapped individually or in small lots.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

George Masters

The photo above and the text by Roslyn Jehne are taken from the University of Sydney website, and the text is only presented here in part. The three Western Ground Parrots in the Australian Museum collection were obtained by George Masters on two separate trips to Western Australia. 

Below the text is the authorization document for the second trip,1868. The document is held by the Australian Museum.

The Macleay Museum owes a great deal of its natural history collection to the enthusiasm of one man: prolific collector George Masters. Roslyn Jehne takes a look at the English gardener who became a fearless Aussie forager.

Naturalist and entomologist George Masters was born in Kent, England in July 1837. He first became interested in natural history while employed as a gardener. Migrating to Melbourne around 1856 or 1857, he was employed first looking after an entomological collection and then spent some time in Tasmania collecting insects for himself.

Masters arrived in Sydney about 1859 or 1860, continuing with his entomology collection in his spare time. While identifying insects at the Australian Museum, he found errors, which he pointed out to the curator Gerard Kreftt. Fate intervened in Masters’ life when he was introduced to William John Macleay (1820–91), Australian Museum Trustee, wealthy pastoralist, collector and politician and beneficiary of the so-called Macleayan Museum, including the famous insect cabinets of the Macleay family. Macleay employed Masters to collect for him in Port Denison in Queensland.

After returning from his trip in July 1862, Masters began collecting and exhibiting in earnest. Also a fine marksman and taxidermist, he collected a variety of bird skins. He was a robust man, who enjoyed the country sports of ‘huntin’, ‘shootin’ and ‘fishin’. Undaunted by the heat of the Australian climate, his personality well suited life as a collector. It was said of him that he was “a splendid shot, fearless in the bush with natives and frequently caught reptiles, including venomous snakes in his bare hands”.

From 1864 to 1874 he worked as Assistant Curator to Kreftt at the Australian Museum, making extensive collecting trips throughout Australia, including NSW, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and Lord Howe Island. He also provided Macleay with specimens for his private museum. A prolific collector, Masters was responsible at one time for acquiring a considerable section of the Australian Museum’s collection.  

This authorization document is copyright Australian Museum.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Australian Museum WGPs

Below are three more photos of the Western Ground Parrots held in the Australian Museum Collection. The photos were supplied by Dr Walter Boles of that Museum and are used with permission.

The photos of individual adult female and male show a difference in the beak shape with the male's upper beak being broader with a grooved ridge at the centre.  The female has a sharper, finer ridge. Sometimes males have no groove, but a broad, rounded, ridge. 

The group photo of three adult birds  has the female on the left then two males. A female  held in the Western Australian Museum has a yellower belly than this but she also retains some blotching around the throat and upper breast as this bird (23539) has. Though both are adults, the male in the centre is probably younger than the male on the right (23538). The (presumed) older bird has very little dark blotching and only fine streaks on the throat and upper breast, and the yellow belly is more pronounced.

Juvenile WGPs are heavily blotched and streaked.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Western Ground Parrots in the Australian Museum

The image above was supplied by Dr Walter Boles of the Australian Museum, Sydney and is used with permission.

The three Western Ground Parrot specimens in the Australian Museum collection were all collected by Mr George Masters in the vicinity of King George's Sound, on the south coast of Western Australia near the town of Albany. Western Ground Parrots can no longer be found there.

No.23687 is a male collected in April 1866.

No.23538 is a male collected in April 1866.

No. 23539 is a female bird and was collected on 20 March 1868.

It would seem that Masters returned to the site in 1868 to collect a female for the AM as the birds collected in 1866 were both males.

The female was designated a syntype* by Alfred North in 1911 when he classified the Western Ground Parrots as Pezoporus flaviventris, a separate species from Pezoporus wallicus. This classification was over-ruled by Gregory Mathews a few years later. He classified the Western Ground Parrot as a subspecies: Pezoporus wallicus flaviventris. In 2010 there was a reversion to P. flaviventris and P. wallicus, each as separate species (Murphy et al. 2010).

More on the scientific names for the Western Ground Parrot may be found on the b-log posting of 21 September, 2013, entitled 'Many names'.

* Meaning of syntype (from Wikipedia)

1. One of two or more biological specimens or other elements used for the original published description of a species or subspecies where no holotype was designated.
2. One of two or more biological specimens or other elements simultaneously designated as type specimens in the original published description of a species or subspecies.

Murphy, S.A., Joseph, L., Burbidge, A.H. and Austin, J. (2010). A cryptic and critically endangered species revealed by mitochondrial DNA analyses: the western Ground Parrot. Conservation genetics 12: 595-600.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Swan River specimen

The city of Perth is built on the Swan River, Western Australia. The settlement was founded in 1829 as the Swan River Colony and it seems that there were ground parrots in the area at least until the 1840s when John Gilbert visited twice while collecting for John Gould. One strand of evidence for the presence of ground parrots in Perth is the native name for them, recorded by John Gilbert. Four different native names were recorded for different areas in southern Western Australia. The Perth name was Djar-doon-gur-ree.

The specimen below was part of a collection presented to the Natural History Museum (branch of the British Museum), by the then director, Richard Bowdler Sharpe. It is not recorded how he came by the collection or who actually collected the specimens, when they were collected, or exactly where. It is unlikely that ground parrots were present in the Swan River area by the beginning of the 1900s.

When John Gilbert first arrived in 1839, he mentioned in a letter that there were several collectors of bird specimens when he arrived, all hoping to make as much  money as possible. (Whittell, H.C. 'A review of the work of John Gilbert in Western Australia', in Emu 1941 pp. 112-129).

This bird specimen along with 18 others, was registered as part of the Natural History Museum collection on 18 June 1888. (Specimen number: 1888.6.18.17). It appears to be an adult female, by the shape of the upper mandible (curved for more than half its length indicates a female) and the colour of the throat feathers - there would be more streaking if it were a young bird.

The three photos below are all COPYRIGHT Natural History Museum.

Below is the original registration notation of the 19 specimens from the Swan River. The Western Ground Parrot, pictured above, is no. 17. The scientific names applied to these specimens, including that for the Western Ground Parrot, have in many instances changed. The name for the ground parrot in this list, and possibly for some of the other specimens, is miss-spelt. it should read Pezoporus formosus.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Nestling labels

This photo of the labels on one of the nestlings shown in the previous posting is COPYRIGHT Natural History Museum.

The top label appears to be the oldest and may have been an original label. The spelling 'Wangun Hills' uses the Aboriginal name for the hills that John Gilbert first visited with much enthusiasm in Sept. 1842 as he was eagerly awaiting his first encounter with Malleefowl. He used a similar spelling on other specimens from that area though his spelling was often 'Wangan'.

Gilbert was very familiar with Western Ground Parrots as he collected Aboriginal names for them in four different regions of Western Australia. These were Swan River (Perth), north of the Swan River settlement (where the nestlings were collected), south of Swan River, and King George's Sound (Albany area). Ground parrots are no longer found in any of these localities. Heavy clearing for agriculture took place in the Wongan Hills area in the early 1900s. Gilbert did not distinguish the Western Ground Parrots from Eastern Ground Parrots, both being named Pezoporus formosus

In those early days there was no settlement or clearing out that way and Gilbert's expedition, which included members of the Drummond family and Aboriginal guides was through bush. 

The extract above from the RAOU Journal The Emu, 1938, shows handwriting of John Gould'secretary (first paragraph), and John Gilbert (second paragraph). Gilbert's handwriting does not appear to match up with the label. However,the authority on John Gilbert, National Museums Liverpool's Clemency Fisher, Senior Curator of vertebrate zoology (World Museum), who has researched the work of John Gilbert over 35 years, is confident that the top label was indeed written by John Gilbert.

Gilbert was meticulous at keeping notes and also wrote detailed letters to his employer, Gould, but no mention of the nestlings has been found. However, some of Gilbert's letters to Gould were lost.

It is significant that 'Sandplain' is specifically mentioned as sandplain with its low but diverse vegetation is the preferred habitat of the Western Ground Parrot.

The second label is the original label of registration into the Natural History Museum collection. It appears that the date was 15 Feb. 1844 and the specimens were 96 and 97 entered on that date.

It is not clear why the third and more recent label questions that the collection was ever part of the John Gould Collection. The bulk of Gould's Australian Birds collection was sold to Dr Thomas Wilson, patron of The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, in 1847. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Nestlings from the vicinity of Wongan Hills

These specimens, numbers 1844.2.15.96 and 97 are part of the Natural History Museum (NHM) collection. The NHM is a large section of the British Museum and is located separately. The specimens were part of the John Gould Collection. They must have been donated to the British Museum prior to the sale of the bulk of Gould's Australian collection which was sold to a Dr Wilson for Drexel University's Academy of Science, Philadephia in 1847. The registration numbers indicate that these specimens became part of the British Museum collection in 1844.

It has not been known who collected the nestlings. A likely possibility has been John Gilbert as he was in Western Australia in 1839/1840 and 1842/1843. He is known to have travelled to the Wongan Hills area in the spring of 1842 and 1843. The party included Aboriginals and members of the Drummond family who were local settlers, and all good bushmen. No record of the nestling collection has been found but it is known that some letters from Gilbert to Gould were lost. (See next posting "Nestling labels" for more on this.)

A previous blog posting dated 13 December 2013 and entitled "Wongan Hills - Ground Parrots were there" includes part of an article by Julian Ford in which the nestlings are discussed.

The images below are both copyright Natural History Museum

The upper nestling in the Heads photo appears by upper mandible shape to be a female, and the lower one a male, but this has not been verified in any other way. 
Images above .Copyright Natural History Museum

Monday, August 3, 2015

Western Ground Parrots in British Museum Catalogue 1891

The British Museum currently holds 26 adult Ground Parrot skins, 1 skull (from a skin), and 2 clutches of eggs. Most of these were collected in the 1800s and are listed in the catalogue produced in 1891. On the catalogue list below, only two entries are definitely Western Ground Parrots: the adult skin from Swan River and the nestlings from near Wanyan Hills.

Robert Prys-Jones, Head, Bird Group, Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum, Tring, U.K., provided the above information.

At the time of publication, the Ground Parrot had the scientific name: Pezoporus formosus, and is number 54 (1). A list of existing literature (pre-1891)is supplied, a description of the bird, and a list of the specimens then held by the museum.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Western Ground Parrots in the Lord Braybrooke Collection

Simon Nevill, who is very knowledgeable about Australian birds, noticed two Western Ground Parrots in the Audley End House Collection when he was visiting more than ten years ago. He found that these ground parrots had been sent to Richard Cornwallis Neville, 4th Lord Braybrooke, an avid collector of natural history and archeology, whose home was Audley End House. They were sent by a colonist of the Swan River Colony, on the Unicorn which was due to sail from Fremantle in January 1846. Simon also obtained a copy of part of the consignment list, and part of the accompanying letter to Lord Braybrooke. A photo of the House and part of those copies can be seen in an earlier posting entitled 'Audley End House' and dated October 27 2013. Audley End House is in Cambridgeshire, near Shelford.

There is no information in the letter about the exact source of the Western Ground Parrots. All the birds and animals in that consignment came from 'different parts of the colony'. 

The photos below were kindly provided by English Heritage.

This bird (above) appears to be a mature male - by the colour of the throat and the shape of the upper mandible.
Two males and a female are on the consignment list yet only two appear to be on display. Unsure from this image whether this bird is a male or a female and also it is not known whether the sender was reliable at sexing the birds.
There was a high interest in Europe in collecting during the 1800s as it had become possible to classify specimens and as colonisation continued to expand. The central case (above) contains the Western Ground Parrots as well as many other Australian birds, not all from the Swan River Colony or Western Australia.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Description of eggs

The Western Ground Parrot clutch of eggs shown two postings ago was described by the collector Mr H.L. White in the R.A.O.U. Journal, The Emu, in January 1914.

H.L. White was a collector extraordinaire, and the egg collection is held by Museum Victoria.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mr F. Lawson Whitlock

The photo below was published in The Emu, Volume 53 (1953), Plate 25, soon after his death at the age of 93, earlier in 1953.

F. Lawson Whitlock was the collector of the only clutch of Western Ground Parrot eggs to be taken from the wild (see previous posting). He described the search in the article (The Emu, Volume 13, 1914) which forms part of the first posting in the Western Ground Parrot History blog.

An extract: ......and was fortunate, after a long and weary search, in securing three fine and freshly laid eggs, from a nest sheltered as before by a prickly (?Hakea) bush. This was on 20th November - just a month later than the previous season. I flushed the female from this nest at a distance of about 10 feet away, and though I made several attempts to see her sitting on the eggs, I was unsuccessful in this respect.The eggs were well sheltered by the overhanging bush, and the nest was very neatly lined with fine dead grasses, the latter being arranged in a true circular manner. When flushed the female flew a short distance away and uttered no sound. I saw nothing of the male. As far as I can judge, he spends the day at some distance from the nest, lying concealed in the low thick scrub, from which he will not emerge until nearly trodden upon.....

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Western Ground Parrot eggs

A clutch of three Western Ground Parrot (WGP)eggs was collected for H.L. White by F. Lawson Whitlock on 20 November 1913.

This was the first and only recorded clutch of WGP eggs found in the wild, indicating both the scarcity and cryptic habit of the species.

The images below were sourced from Museum Victoria where the extensive and valuable H.L. White collection of Australian bird eggs and skins is housed.

WGPs can no longer be found in the location from which these eggs were taken. 

Part of the first posting on this blog (Sat. August 10, 2013) "Finding Western Ground Parrot nests" is a copy of the article by F. Lawson Whitlock on his difficulties in finding these eggs, and it includes a photo of the nesting site.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Land release deferral

Several letters notifying us of the land release deferral were received in addition to those below. These included a letter from the Premier, Brian Burke; the Minister for the Environment,Ron Davies;the Minister for Fisheries and Wildlife H. Evans and the Under-secretary for Lands, B. O'Halloran.

At last we were confident that the area would remain uncleared until after the first survey to assess the status of Ground Parrots in Western Australia had been completed.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Land release deferred

Below is the public notification of the deferral of the land release north of the Fitzgerald River National Park. The decision largely rested on the unknown status of the ground parrot.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Task Force

The Task Force on Land Resource Management in South Western Australia gathered all relevant data and presented a report with recommendations to the Premier and Cabinet. The findings were used to make the final decision about the fate of the land north of the existing Fitzgerald River National Park, which was, among other things, ground parrot habitat.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

RAOU survey

Photo shows the RAOU campsite in the north Fitzgerald where the land-use was soon to be changed.. The goal was to survey for ground parrots  Listening took place on 30 September and 1 October 1983.

This event is described with additional detail in a previous posting dated 7 February 2014, entitled "Ground Parrot survey gets underway in the Fitzgerald". This current posting adds documents that were designed for the survey plus the photo and some results from surveying in that location.

Below is the information sheet prepared for the participants. The map shows the areas designated to be released for farming as well as sites where ground parrots had been recorded before. Only in 1983 had there been enough records to indicate that the birds were resident, and this was the area to be surveyed. Method of survey and how to distinguish a ground parrot are described.

The rope idea was tried but failed dismally due to the emergent mallees in the habitat here.

First data sheet. 

The site numbers are those shown on the data sheet above. We learnt how to survey using calls in 1983 thanks to Richard Jordan.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


We made an effort to explain the ground parrot situation to our local State Member of Parliament resulting in him communicating formally with the Minister for Fisheries and Wildlife.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Advice about census methods

Richard Jordan was our best source of information about ground parrot survey thanks to his experience at Barren Grounds in New South Wales.

The rope method of flushing was tried in the north Fitzgerald but proved impractical due to the emergent mallee. See an earlier posting (Friday 7 February, 2014, query 'rope'.)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A good summary

This well-written  article is a precis of the situation in which the currently known habitat of the western ground parrot was close to being released for farming, an incompatible land use.

Due to difficulty in scanning a large page, the text has three missing pairs of lines, marked in pink. The missing words are below.

1. .....campaigners living in the area, the State government is poised to.......

2. .....species from the relatively plentiful eastern species and that.......

3. ......parrots. There has been only one sighting of a ground parrot in....