Laos’ Khammouane Bulbul, a new bird species from Laos.
-by Stijn De Win / Birding2asia.com
Khammouane, Central Laos, early December 2008 –another morning’s birding…
Let’s check on that bird high up on the exposed rock, probably just another Blue Rock Thrush -but the
shape doesn’t fit exactly...
I had my scope out in no time and made the pictures above. The bird was quite high and views remained
brief though. Clearly not a Blue Rock Thrush, this was a bird I had never seen before, not even on a photo
or pictured in a book!!! From behaviour and appearance, I assume this must be some kind of Bulbul though.
It was 08h30 by now and the bird had gone, after about 3 hours of searching, I gave up as it had become
hot and dead as for bird activity in the area, with the intention to come search again the next morning.
Up early and at the Bulbul site at around 06h00. It wasn’t before about 08h15 that the same birds appeared, 4 this time and all looking exactly the same, with 3 keeping fairly close together and a fourth bird nearby but clearly keeping some distance from the other 3. The birds again where shy and would come up exposed in trees only for brief moments but I managed a couple more shots.
The same happened on a 3rd morning with the birds to appear briefly between 8 and 9 in the morning not
to be found again later on. Observation were on 11-12-13 December 2008.
What are these things? A description and the answer are below.
-Based on appearance and behaviour, one might think they are young Yellow-vented Bulbuls that got some kind of parasite, which got their face bald…
Now, this doesn’t match very well either. While this might be reasonable common in for example Common Myna*, all the bald-headed Mynas I have seen myself looked shabby and never had the bare areas so sharply and neat defined. Note that the Common Myna already has a bare area around the eye in ‘full’ plumage that might just get somewhat extended further onto the face and beyond in cases, making this a possibly not uncommon kind of thing to happen in Mynas, -not Bulbuls however. I’m sure it’s very weird at least that 4 birds would look exactly the same having a parasite, even if they had come from the same nest.
-No normal looking Yellow-vented Bulbuls were seen in the wide area, despite having spent quite a lot of time birding in the place. (Note Yellow-vented Bulbul is a generally common species.) At the Bulbul spot itself, I recorded Grey-eyed Bulbul, Stripe-throated Bulbul, Black-crested Bulbul and Puff-throated Bulbul.
-The Bulbuls never made a single sound on any of my encounters.
-They never appeared or behaved to be juv. or very young birds. Moreover they were coloured much darker brown than juv. Yellow-vented Bulbuls.
-I saw them feeding on the berries pictured in the one of my photos.
-Size of the birds matches Yellow-vented Bulbul.
-They appeared to have a thick, fluffy collar as some other species having bare parts on face, head or neck often have. This however might just be a visual illusion because of the abrupt transition into the bare area. Note this is claimed based on what I saw in the field rather than through looking at the pictures.
-Birds overall looked darker brown than the average Bulbul and certainly darker than Yellow-vented. Back and rump dark brown. Breast, belly and vent grey-brown, Chin bare, throat whitish, neck and nape silvery white. Bill and eye black. A crest of very short, brownish hairs. Bare parts of face blue-grey above and around the eye, chestnut below.
-Altitude at the sighting is 200m asl.
-Habitat that the birds favoured is sharp limestone karst (mostly inaccessible terrain) where there’s plenty vegetation and even big trees present.
-These birds were not easy to take photographs of, my best are on this page but I have another 20 worthless ones if you’re interested to see those.
Summary; old (13th July 2009)
-I have to thank the people that so generously contributed to my article. It has now come to my knowledge that this taxon is a new bird species under scientific description since 1998. Not sure though what took these guys so long to let the world know, in the mean time depriving the birding community of some value information that could have put Laos on the map as a birdwatching destination a long while back, with ecotourism the key to conservation. But see my article on ‘Na Hin Forest’.
-A full description of the species based on the proper studies and so on is about to appear in the forthcoming issue of ‘Forktail’, due to arrive mid August. The new name will be submitted in the publication and I make no intensions to come up with one, although strictly spoken, having the bird discovered myself and brought to the attention of the public first, I could hereby easily claim the new name. I am generous enough to leave this honour with the people that have worked on the description for so long. I would like to stress to anyone coming up with bad ideas to reserve strict copyright of my photographs and description. Expect to get charged under copyright laws and to receive a bad name in every single corner of the internet.
-Nevertheless, Stijn De Win deserves credit and recognition too as he discovered the new birds independently, unknowingly simultaneously during the period of scientific research. And credit for the first article on the birds of course.(A posting of mine with link to the article got deleted on Orientalbirding yahoo groups, clearly violating laws concerned the freedom of speech.) For this and because I am a native Dutch (Belgium-Netherlands) speaker I would like to submit the new name in the Dutch language, for what it's worth eh.
Khammouanebuulbuul, which will honour the fantastic karst area the birds are found in.
Absolutely fabulous birding country that has a lot on offer with plenty stuff still to be discovered. I’ve been trying to make the public aware of this ever after my first visit (see article on Na Hin Forest) but up to today Laos still seems largely to be the exclusive playground of researchers and scientists. I really hope my article could step up for the birding and ecotourism that the country is in desperate need of.
Summary of (some) facts; (2nd August 2009)
-I have to thank the people that so generously contributed to my article. It has now come to everyone’s knowledge (29th July 09) that this taxon bears the name Pycnonotus hualon. I was told in error by the people involved with the publication and description of the new species that it was under scientific description since 1998. (on 13th July 09) The same people made disappear my posting where I had tried to bring my discovery and findings under the attention of the public.(on 13th July 09) That this has led to some misunderstandings is clear. See also note 1.
-A full scientific description of the species got published in ‘Forktail’, an online pdf paper that got released on 29th July 2009, before the actual hard copy reached subscribers of the paper. It is good we can read here the actual circumstances of the first sightings back in 1995 and 1999. Of note hereby are the following lines copied and paste from the Forktail paper.
- On 17 May 1995,RJT observed a small group of distinctive bulbuls on limestone karst c.150–200 m vertically above the Hinboun plain (itself at c.165 m asl) at the northern end of the Khammouan limestone massif (18°04’N 104°31’E) (Fig. 1). As the group passed through, the birds alighted momentarily offering brief views of ‘5+ greyish brown bulbuls (?) with bare heads, somewhat buffy/olive undertail coverts, possibly two dark bars on rump. Twittery calls’. This observation was omitted from the survey report.
(Of note is the reason that is given for the omission (see Forktail), which rises the question about what should be included in survey reports.)
- Nearby, in early 1999 T. D. Evans (in litt. 2009) observed atypical bulbuls ‘_‘ on three occasions: singles on 6 January and 4 February, and two on 11 February.
‘_‘ ,but better views on 4 February showed an unidentifiable bird: ‘pale grey-white face; chestnut smear above and around eye, a little below it; hindcrown seemed pale, divided indistinctly from pale face by a salient of olive from the mantle, possibly with black face margin near eye; dark dull olive mantle; bright olive flight feathers; drab olive belly, greyer and paler than mantle’. These observations were left unreported.
( ‘_’ not relevant here –check paper for full text)
(Of note in this is that an unidentifiable bird went unreported, considered that any reason for this can be put into question.)
- Moreover, and despite these differences, it is considered that Evans may have viewed P. hualon since (1) it was difficult to ascribe the birds to any other bulbul species, and (2) his notes describe the following series of similarities with P. hualon: general plumage characters below the neck and consistency in broad-scale head patterning including face different from nape and distinct coloration of the supraorbital patch and lore.
(A second description of the unidentifiable bird of 1999, as reported on the date of 29th July 2009, in the Forktail pdf)
-More than 13 years after the 1995 sighting, ‘bald’ bulbuls were encountered again c.185 km to the southeast. In November–December 2008
Some have questioned me why I didn’t come up with my sightings earlier. (First sighting 11th December 2008, my article published 13th July 2009, which is a little less than 13 years anyhow.) Reason for this is quite simple. I had the same thoughts and doubts Timmins and Evans had long ago (See Forktail pdf, The new Bulbul chapter), about the birds I had seen back in December 2008. My article shows it, where I’ve questioned the world and myself this to be a new species or whether just some parasite that had struck a known species this way. (Not unlikely, ref. Dieter Heylen 2009) I have been extremely busy with other stuff due to a lack of money (not funded by a mining company), hence my lack of time to investigate further myself. I think it is quite understandably that I did hesitate for a short while to ask just about anyone about more info on these birds (Few would have known anything; as was the case, a 100 percent acceptable, with P. Verbelen who I sent Bulbul photos to ask what they could possibly be, this on 10th January 2009 ) When I finally did ask someone again, and thinking I had sent it to the right and knowledgeable people this time, and unknowingly to the very people involved with the description and publication of the new Bulbul, it didn’t help really.(See also summary of facts, paragraph 1) I received the first proper info on the Bulbul and anything regarding it on 26th July, from Will Duckworth. Way to late to avoid any misunderstandings.
For your information;
Additional known info about the Bulbuls not outlined in the scientific paper;
-Food use of the birds. See my photo of the Bulbul sitting on a branch with berries that I saw it feeding on.
-I seem to have the only photos taken in the field. Important ones that show posture, behaviour, use of perches, habitat etc.
-Some better habitat pictures, I find the one in Forktail very poor (with the birder walking down) as it does not show much vegetation, neither gives an idea of area. (Scroll to end article for photo gallery)
-This article (and photos) describes the first known features of the ‘northern’ birds (1995+2000+my record). In the scientific description ‘discrepancies’ between Pha Lom and ‘northern’ birds, none of them regarded as sure, are mentioned. . My birds for example have no red bare skin behind the eye (above eye-line) and nothing red on the crown , it is greyish-blue, the same colour that surrounds the eye. Therefore, the birds of my observations might well, some day, prove to be a distinct form or a valid subspecies. Unlikely, seen similarities in the features of the birds of both populations, but not impossible as pointed out to me, may it prove a distinct species ultimately, some day.
-The habitat got described fairly well in both the scientific paper and my article (+photos) but nothing comprehensive is known on range and distribution. My sighting, confirmed with photos at Na Hin Forest and the possible sighting by Albert Noorlander well north of Vang Viang back in August 2007 (see note 3) will greatly contribute to the knowledge of the distribution and range of the species.
Khammouane Bulbuls have been observed with ID almost sure, back in August 2007 by Albert Noorlander, who recognised the birds from my photos. The birds were seen along the road between Vang Viang and Luang Prabang. This would extend the known range of the Bulbuls far to the north and add to the knowledge about the birds. (See also note 2) An excellent find by Albert and I was as exited to hear about his findings as I was about my own observations. Congratulations to you Albert and well done.
On a less serious note 6;
Khammouane Bulbul : this synonym sounds quite beautiful, as opposed to the obvious but somewhat flat Bare-faced, and is hoped to honour the fantastic karst area the birds are found in. It is hoped that it will finally create the interest of the public/birders for the area and Laos that I’ve been writing for since 21st August 2008. (See Na Hin Forest article, updated 2 August 09)
Story 1 (Funny similarities to the Bulbul find and a recommended read.)
Sabang, Palawan, Philippines, early February 2008 –another afternoon’s birding…
What is the black bird over there in the garden of our lodge? Looks like an Island Thrush but something doesn’t fit exactly…
My friend Andy Goodwin and myself were birding St. Pauls / Subterranean River National Park on Palawan (recommended excellent birding). After a full morning birding in the park we used to return to the resort for lunch and some rest during the hot hours of the day, or to do a bit of birding in the large and green lodge grounds. One such early afternoon brought our attention to this thrush like bird in the garden. We never figured what it was exactly at the time and the closest we could find in the Philippine bird book was Island Thrush so we went with it, although altitude and so wasn’t right. Island Thrush was a lifer still at the time for me so no comparison possible as with earlier sightings.
But the bird never looked right really for Island Thrush…I phoned up Tim Fisher later and he told me we saw the first ever Eurasian Blackbird (or split Eastern-Chinese) for the Philippines…we found the first Blackbird for the Philippines…whow…to find out later that it already got found by Tim Fisher on 30th November 2007. The bird doesn’t feature in the Philippines bird book as it was never recorded before and we had never thought about a most unexpected Blackbird to turn up on the islands.
Nice isn’t it? The big difference with the Bulbul story however is, that the Blackbird never had been a secret and it is myself to blame for not knowing it had been seen a few months earlier already on Palawan. I did not do my homework properly before travelling and the errors in this are mine. Anyhow, on this day it serves as a nice story!
2008 was so beautiful, the Blackbird and plenty other excellent Philippine birds and I found something very special on Philippines too…,I found Na Hin Forest with Red-collared Woodpecker and Sooty Babblers, I started this website, I found the Bulbuls…
Will 2009 ever make it? Working on that!
I visited Laos for the first time back in April 2008. Funny enough, that first visit was rather accidentally given my intention at the time to only cross the country on the shortest possible route to Vietnam, this done travelling by motor with a start in Bangkok. (Yep, I surfed the net, only to find people to tell me there’s no birds in Laos as they all got eaten but in the most remote and inaccessible corners of the country! Hate ‘em now!!!) As I experienced at the time, Vietnam didn’t prove to be the completely hassle free country for the motorist that Laos is. They never let me cross the border into Vietnam. Sure enough I remember the friendly officials at the Lao border post to let me through into Vietnam to seek out I could arrange papers at the Vietnam side of the border. And I can not remember those Vietnamese officials to ever have spoken 1 single word to me. Vietnam didn’t make a good impression on me at this first encounter as you might note. I later flew into Hanoi and went on a rented motorbike, which was pretty ok in the end though. Anyway, I had noticed this roadside forest some 80 km back into Laos with a guesthouse nearby along the road that I was about to need being late afternoon already. And this is pretty much how I stumbled across the superb birdwatching site I call ‘Na Hin Forest’. After you’ve seen the page on Na Hin you know I was in for ‘more’ Laos, and in December 2008 went on another exploratory trip. Went back to the Na Hin Forest where I added some 50 bird species to the site’s list, saw Sooty Babblers, Lao Langur, White-bellied Pigeon… After that and before heading to Champasak in the south of the country did some more exploring in Khammouane province…exactly how many times in life does one see a bird that isn’t featured in any field guide, that no photos can be found of…???
Go to top article.
All photos taken at Na Hin Forest in and near places used by Khammouane Bulbul. More photos from Na Hin and Laos.
Stijn De Win / Birding2asia.com
wrote this article on 7th July 2009, and has published this information page on July 13th 2009,
updated 25th July, and updated 2nd August 2009.