Henry Seebohm.

[Ornithological papers] (Volume 2) online

. (page 13 of 23)
Online LibraryHenry Seebohm[Ornithological papers] (Volume 2) → online text (page 13 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


both being numbered ( ' 839." Hodgson does not appear ever
to have described his species, but catalogues it in Gray's



On the Ornithology of Ceylon. 279

( Zoological Miscellany' as " Abrornis chloronopus vel Re-
gulus modestus auct." Under these circumstances I do not
see that Hodgson has the slightest claim to have his name
recognized at all.

Phylloscopus occipitalis (Jerdon), fide Seebohm, Ibis, 1877,
p. 80.

Phylloscopus Irochiloides (Sundev.), apud Seebohm, Ibis,
1877, p. 81.

The former is the spring plumage, and the latter the
autumn plumage of P. occipitalis , Blyth.

Phylloscopus viridipennis (Blyth), apud Seebohm, Ibis, 1877,
p. 82.

Phylloscopus (Reguloides) flavo-olivaceus, Hume, Stray
Feath. v. p. 504 (1877).

These are both synonyms of the true Phylloscopus regu-
loides (Blyth) .

Phylloscopus presbytis (Miiller), from Timor, is probably
the Muscicapa presbytis of S. Mull. Tydschr. v. Natuurl.
Geschied. en Phys. ii. p. 331 (1835), from Sumatra. It is
the winter plumage of P. viridipennis, Blyth, whose name
will stand, since Muller's name is unaccompanied by any
description.



XXVI. Notes on the Ornithology of Ceylon.
By E. L. LAYARD, F.Z.S.

THE last mail put me in possession of Parts I. and II. of
Captain Legge's ' Birds of Ceylon/ with which I am especially
delighted. It would ill become me to criticize the scientific
history of the birds as given by the author; but as a " pioneer/'
as he calls me, in the field, permit me to add my testimony
to the accurate descriptions of the habits of our feathered
friends and the localities they inhabit. For the last two or
three days I have not been in New Caledonia ! Bodily, per-
haps, I have; but in spirit I have roamed at will in the
" Mookalane " of the south, the scrubby jungles of the west
coast, and the trackless forests of the " Wanoy," over the vast



280 Mr. E. L. Layard on the

salt plains of the north, transported to the well-remembered
haunts in the lovely " Lanka " by Captain Legge's spirited
narrative.

So vivid have been my impressions, though some six and
twenty years have passed since I left its shores and ceased to
work in its fauna, that the " mysterious chambers of the brain "
have given up memories long locked up in them, and incidents
of collecting, of travelling, of individual specimens even,
seem to stand forth one by one, like pictures in dissolving
views, one, as it fades, calling up another. Some of these
reminiscences may not be useless to the future explorers of
Ceylonese ornithology ; I therefore jot them down as they
occur to me.

Nisaetusfasdatus. The specimen in the Poole Museum is
Dr. Templeton's specimen ! I now remember it perfectly
well. My dear old friend gave it to me, with a few other
specimens, when he left the island, and it thus came into the
Poole collection, never having been replaced by a better.

My first connexion with the ornithology of Ceylon may
well be detailed here.

I arrived in Ceylon in March 1846, and for some time,
having no employment, amused my leisure in collecting for
my more than friend, Dr. Templeton, who had nursed me
through a dangerous illness, and in whom I found a con-
genial spirit. My chief attraction then was the glorious Le-
pidoptera of the island ; but I always carried a light single-
barrelled gun in a strap on my back, to shoot specimens for
the Doctor. He himself, like Dr. Kelaart, never shot, but
depended on his friends for specimens. I, of course, soon
became interested in the " ornis ;" and on Templeton's
leaving, at the end of 1847 or beginning of 1848, he begged
me to take up his correspondence with the late Edward
Blyth, then curator of the R. A. S. Calcutta Museum*.
He left me his list of the species then known to exist in
the island, numbering 183, and Blyth's last letter to answer.
From that day almost monthly letters passed between the

* All Ceylonese species therefore (except Kelaart* s) described by Blyth
after this date were discovered by me.



Avifauna of New Caledonia. 545

Before we conclude our " Notes " we hope the Editors of
'The Ibis" will allow us a little space for a ride oil our
favourite " hobby " small-bore guns for collecting-natu-
ralists, especially ornithologists. Our favourite (t Long Tom "
(bore -360) has already been noticed in these pages, and we
can now confidently recommend a double-barrelled gun of
larger bore, but still small (viz. 28 to the lb., old style), as
fitted to do all the work that a naturalist requires, and to
effect a vast saving of cost and weight and space in carriage of
ammunition. The collector must, however, be content with
a pin-fire gun for the following reasons : He can load his
cartridges at least five times over, and though they may be
expanded by the firing, the use of a steel ' ' swedge " before
loading contracts them very much, and with the aid of a hard
wooden punch (we use 8 inches of an old ash broom-handle !),
which can be carried in the pocket, they can always be forced
into the chamber of the gun : when fired they come out
easily. Not so with a central-fire gun, here any forcing is
damaging to the self-acting extractor, and the collector will
inevitably come to grief if he attempt it.

Our little 28-bore weighs barely 5 lb., an ordinary fowling-
piece 6^ or 7 lb. Capt. Richards, R.N., the discoverer of
the lovely Charmosyna margaretha, who collected much in the
Solomon Islands, had a gun constructed by Mr. Buckley,
one of the B. O. U., on the lines of ours, but 36 inches long
(one barrel full choke), with which he did wonders, and of
which he speaks in rapturous terms in the ' Field/ This
weighed 6 lb.

The charges we use are, for small birds, f dram of powder,
^ oz. of small shot; for ordinary work 1 dram powder, f oz.
No. 7 shot; large charge 1^ dram powder, f oz. shot. For
large Pigeons, such as Phcenorhina goliath, weighing nearly
2 lb., and usually perching on very high trees, we use 1 dram
powder and f oz. shot, Nos. 2 or 3. A small charge of ppw-
der will send large shot with sufficient force to kill at long
distances, and will not scatter it so much as a large charge.

Now calculate the saving of such a gun over a 14- or 12-
bore, which requires 2^ drams of powder and 1J oz. of shot.






546 Mr. H. Seebohm on the

Of our first charge we get 409 shots in the pound of powder,
of our second 256-258, and of our third 170. 2J drams of
powder allow about 102 charges to the pound.

Of shot 96, 42 and 26 in the pound, as compared to 13 of
the big gun. Of course the big gun can throw small charges,
but it does not do it so well as the small one. Now we
venture to say that at least 80 out of every 100 specimens
killed in the forest will fall to the first and second charges,
and a little amount of careful stalking and manoeuvring will
bring any thing else (Ducks, sea-fowl, &c.) within range of
the third and big shot, special charge.

An ordinary gun-case will carry about 140 of these small
cartridges, or, on an average, 700 shots, as we have shown ;
and we think that when the relief of carrying the smaller
weight of gun and ammunition when afield collecting (espe-
cially in a hot climate) is considered, the saving in bulk, as
luggage (impedimenta), and the saving of good ammunition
(not to be got in out-of-the-way places the best, usually,
in which to collect), our collecting-brethren of the B. O. U.
will thank us for the foregoing " wrinkle " about small-bore
guns.



XL. On the Interbreeding of Birds. By HENRY SEEBOHM.

THE interbreeding of birds supposed to be specifically distinct
is a subject which has been much neglected by ornithologists.
JThe existence of intermediate forms so produced has been as
much as possible ignored. Where the facts were too obvious
to admit of doubt, the so-called cross was contemptuously
dismissed as a hybrid a monstrosity and, as such, possessing
no more scientific interest than a white blackbird or a six-
legged calf. So long as each species was supposed to have
had a separate origin, and . to be divided by a hard and fast
line from every other species, this attitude of ornithologists
towards interbreeding was excusable ; but now that the theory
of development has been generally accepted, the subject will
be found to possess the greatest interest and to throw unex-
pected light upon the origin of species.



Interbreeding of Birds. 547

The old definition of a species having lapsed, in consequence
of the rejection of the theory of special creation, it is neces-
sary to provide a new one. The first step towards an under-
standing of what constitutes a species is the admission of the
existence of subspecies. Two forms which are apparently
very distinct, as Corvus corone and C. comix or Carduelis
major and C. caniceps, are nevertheless found to be only sub-
specifically distinct a complete series of examples from one
extreme form to the other in each case being obtainable.
These are produced by interbreeding. In the case of the
Crows it has been proved over and over again that the two
extreme forms not only interbreed with each other, but also
with the intermediate forms ; so that not only are mulattos
produced, but also quadroons, octoroons, &c. Of course, in
no other way could a complete series from one extreme form
to the other be obtained.

In some genera of birds we find the relationship between
the species still more complicated. Lanius excubitor inhabits
Western Europe : it is an intermediate form between L. major
of North-eastern Europe and Siberia and L. leucopterus of
South-eastern Europe and Siberia. A complete series of
examples of intermediate forms connecting L. major and
L. leucopterus may be obtained ; and yet both species inhabit
the same district in Siberia and appear to be specifically
distinct, no intermediate forms having been obtained from
that country. On the other hand, both the extreme forms
appear to be only subspecifically distinct from L. excubitor,
inasmuch as in North-eastern Europe every intermediate
form is found between L. major and L. excubitor, and in
South-eastern Europe every intermediate form is found
between L. excubitor and L. leucopterus. In this case we
may assume that L. excubitor was the original Shrike from
which L. major and L. leucopterus have varied in opposite
directions. In the case of the Crows and the Goldfinches,
already cited, the circumstances are probably somewhat
diiferent. The original Crow or Goldfinch may have been
an intermediate form of either of the extreme forms; but
there is considerable evidence to prove that, in the case of the






548 Mr. H. Seebohm on the

Crow at least, the two forms had been long enough sep'arated
for the intermediate forms to have been absorbed by inter-
breeding, or eliminated by sexual or natural selection, and
afterwards reproduced by the interbreeding of the extreme
forms wherever the geographical areas of their respective
distributions again met, not only in the valley of the Yenesay,
but also in the valley of the Elbe and in the highlands of
Scotland.

We must, however, look upon the example of the Crows as
an exceptional case. Interbreeding seldom takes place be-
tween the extreme forms, because they are too widely sepa-
rated geographically. The intermediate forms occupy the
intermediate localities, and were probably the original race,
which has spread in different localities and has had to struggle
with different difficulties, and has consequently developed in
different directions, but not to such a degree as to prevent
the individuals of each valley breeding with their immediate
neighbours ; so that a complete series from one extreme to
the other is obtainable, though, as in the case of the Shrikes,
the two extremes have become so widely separated that when
they have subsequently remigrated into the same locality they
remain distinct, having lost the power, or at least the will, to
interbreed.

The case of the Shrikes may be given as a typical example
of incipient species, of imperfectly segregated species, of
species in the process of formation, of conspecies, of sub-
species, or by whatever name ornithologists may agree in
future to call the phenomenon the great fact lying at the
bottom of it all, and explaining it all, being that inter-
breeding takes place. We must, however, bear in mind that
there is no hard and fast line between a specific difference
and a difference which is only subspecific. Two forms may
have become so widely separated that interbreeding between
them has become physically impossible, or they may have
become sufficiently separated to cause the cross to be a barren
hybrid, or the produce may only be less fertile than usual, or
no perceptible decrease of fertility may be observable. The
practical result is that slight subspecific variations are con-



Interbreeding of Birds. 549

tinually lost by interbreeding; so that the similarity of
individuals in a species is retained, whilst the sterility pro-
duced by a specific variation prevents the universal mongreli-
zation of species which might otherwise take place.

Interbreeding is a check upon the indefinite multiplication
of species ; whilst the narrow limit in which it is possible
provides against the extinction of specific differences.

A very interesting case of the interbreeding of forms
hitherto supposed to be specifically distinct has just come to
my knowledge.

Cinclus cashmiriensis is a well-known species of Dipper, in
which the dark-brown and white on the underparts are dis-
tributed in the same manner as they are in our bird, the white
throat and breast being divided abruptly from the dark-brown
belly and flanks. Its range extends from Lake Baical to the
Altai Mountains. In its more northern locality it meets with
C. leucogaster, with which it apparently interbreeds ; for, as
is well known, every intermediate form, as well as both
extreme forms, are found in the district. I have lately had
an opportunity of examining a large series of Dippers, sent
from the Altai Mountains by the Siberian collector of Herr
Tanere of Anclam ; and I find that in the southern extremity
of its range C. cashmiriensis comes into contact with C. sor-
didus, with whom it also apparently interbreeds ; for here again
we have every intermediate form as well as both extreme
forms. It is impossible to say whether C. leucogaster would
interbreed with C. sordidus or not, because we do not know of
any locality where both are found; but it is difficult to avoid
coming to the conclusion that both of them interbreed with
C. cashmiriensis. By obtaining a series of examples from
both localities, a complete series of Dippers may be obtained,
beginning with birds having nearly the whole of the under-
parts white, and ending with birds having the whole of the
underparts brown, the throat and breast being only a shade
paler than the belly and flanks.

In all these forms of Cinclus there is little or no difference
in the colour of the upper parts, which makes it very difficult
to suppose that the difference in colour can be a protective

SER. iv. VOL. vi. 2p



550 Mr. C. Dixon on the

one. The same remarks apply to the various subspecific
forms of Sitta europaea.

But whatever theory we may adopt to account for the
differences in the colour of nearly allied species from different
localities, the fact that interbreeding takes place remains;
and it is this fact which I wish to press upon the attention
of ornithologists.

The case of the Crows and the Goldfinches, where the
extreme forms interbreed, is exceptional. The case of the
Shrikes and the Dippers, where each extreme form inter-
breeds with an intermediate form, may also be exceptional ;
but the cases where the individuals of each valley interbreed
with their immediate neighbours, and where the range is
great enough to make the sum of a series of small differences
show a large difference in the extremes, is by no means un-
common. What I wish to emphasize is the fact that all
these are cases of interbreeding, the difference in the three
modifications of interbreeding which I have cited being one
of degree and not of kind.

XLI. Notes on the Birds of the Province of Constantine,
Algeria. By CHARLES DIXON.

(Plate XIV.)

THE following notes refer to the birds either identified or
collected during a short trip to Biskra and the Aures moun-
tains made in company with Mr. Elwes. Considering that
our stay was such a brief one, and that travelling took up at
least half of the month we were away from England, our
success was far beyond our highest expectations. Amongst
our captures were a dozen specimens of the rare little Algerian
Coal Titmouse, Parus ledoucii ; specimens of Saxicola lugens
with the sex carefully ascertained, settling the much-vexed
question as to the difference of plumage in the sexes of this
bird; several examples of Emberiza Sahara; Phyttoscopus
bonelli ; a female in breeding-plumage of the rare Sylvia deser-
ticola ; and, last but not least, we secured two specimens of
a hitherto undescribed Chat.



Malayan Ornithology. 203

the breast and back ; belly pure white ; wings and tail black
tinged with green ; wing-coverts brown, the feathers having
whitish margins ; middle claw pectinated. The bird had a
very rank fishy smell.

(TRACULUS CARBo, Linn. The Common Cormorant.

On 29th May, 1877, while returning down stream to Kwala
Kangsar, after a few days' shooting on the upper reaches of
the Perak river, I shot what I believe to be a specimen of
the Common Cormorant.

In my notes I have written :

" Soon after daylight, as we were drifting with the stream
past the village of Enggar, loud exclamations from my Malay
boatmen drew my attention to two large birds which were
walking about side by side on a sandbank in the middle of
the river. Steering within shot, I fired from beneath the
attap roof covering the canoe and killed one of them, and,
wading to the bank, found I had got a fine Cormorant, the
first I have seen in this part of the country. It was not quite
dead when I reached it, and whilst flapping about on the
sand disgorged four or five small fishes. It was a female,
length 34 inches, tarsus 2, middle toe with claw 3J ; irides
pale green ; beak at front 2^, in colour dirty white, black
on the ridge ; gular pouch bright yellow ; head, back of neck,
wings, back, and tail rich bronze slightly tinged with green,
and having the feathers of the upper part of the back, also the
scapulars and the wing-coverts, edged with black ; lower back
and sides of abdomen uniform dark greenish- bronze colour;
face, front of neck, breast, and middle of the abdomen white,
much mottled and streaked with brownish black.

PLOTUS MELANOGASTER (Gm.). The Indian Snake-bird.

I got one of these curious birds, looking like a cross be-
tween a Heron and a Cormorant, at Malacca ; it was shot in
April, out of a party of ten or fifteen, on some pools at Kas-
sang, a marshy district in the neighbourhood of the settle-
ment. The local bird-collectors did not seem to be familiar
with it ; so probably it is rare in that part of the country ; but
further north, in Perak, I met with it on several occasions,



204 Mr. H. Seebohm on the

though I never saw more than two or three of them together.
Its chief characteristics are the long snake-like neck and the
beautifully marked black and silver scapulars.



XVI. Notes on the Birds of Astrakhan.
By HENRY SEEBOHM.

WHEN I was in Dresden in the summer of 1881, with Dr.
Sclater and Mr. Forbes, I made a great ornithological dis-
covery. Herr Hofrath Dr. Meyer, with his accustomed
felicity in pointing out to each visitor of the Museum what-
ever is of special individual interest, introduced me to Herr
K. G. Henke, the ornithologist who accompanied Baron
Hoffmannsegg to the valley of the Petchora about twenty to
twenty-five years ago. When I told him what trouble Harvie-
Brown and I took to find him out in 1875, he accounted for
our failure by explaining that he was then living in Astrakhan,
where he had resided for eight years. He devoted the whole
of his time to collecting objects of natural history, principally
ornithological, and disposed of many of his duplicates through
the well-known dealer Herr Schliiter of Halle, from whom
many very interesting skins and eggs of birds have been
received by ornithologists in England and elsewhere, labelled
" Untere Volga " and " Kirgische Steppen." Most, if not
all, of these were collected by Henke, those from the former
locality having been obtained in the delta of the Volga south
of Astrakhan, and those from the latter locality on the great
salt marshes lying between the Volga and the Ural rivers.

Henke's collection ought to be visited by every ornitholo-
gist interested in the birds of the Palaearctic Region. Two or
three hours' railway journey from Dresden, through some of
the finest scenery of " Saxon Switzerland," brings you to the
little town of Sebnitz, whence you can walk (or, if you are
lazy, drive in a cab) four miles to Saupsdorf, where Henke
lives. Sixpence will admit you to a most charming little
museum, full of birds and other objeets of interest, princi-
pally from Astrakhan and Archangel.






Birds of Astrakhan. 205

The following particulars respecting the birds of Astrakhan
were given me by Henke. Many of the facts have been
already published, having been furnished by Henke to M.
Jacobleff, who wrote a paper (unfortunately in the Russian
language) for the * Proceedings ' of the Moscow Natural- His-
tory Society in 1873. But many of Henke's later discoveries
are new ; and all of them will doubtless be of great interest
to English ornithologists.

VULTUR PERCNOPTERUS.

Henke never saw the Egyptian Vultur near Astrakhan ; but
an example was obtained at Sarepta in 1868.

VULTUR FULVUS.

Henke never met with the Griffon Vulture near Astrakhan ;
but, according to Eversmann, sixteen examples were seen
below Sarepta in 1867. This species breeds in the Caucasus
(^/eBogdanoff) and in the Ural Mountains (fide Sabanaeff),
but appears to be only an accidental visitor to the steppes.

AQUILA CHRYSAETUS.

The Golden Eagle is occasionally found near Astrakhan,
both in summer and winter.

AQUILA IMPERIALIS.

The western form of the Imperial Eagle is somewhat rare
near Astrakhan. On the delta it breeds on the willow trees ;
but in the steppes it makes its nest on the ground. It is
occasionally seen in winter.

AQUILA N^EVIA.

The Lesser Spotted Eagle passes through the valley of the
Lower Volga on migration in spring and autumn.

AQUILA CLANGA.

The Greater Spotted Eagle is somewhat rare on the Kir-
ghiz steppes east of the Volga, but is commoner on the
Kalmuk steppes to the west of that river.

AQUILA BIFASCIATA.

The Steppe-Eagle is very common on the Kirghiz steppes,
especially on the banks of the salt marshes, where it builds a



206 Mr. H. Seebohm on the

nest two feet high on the hilly banks of the rivers, on forsaken
earth huts and on haycocks and hayricks.

AQUILA RAPAX.

Henke obtained an example of the Tawny Eagle near As-
trakhan ; and several have occurred at Sarepta.

AQUILA BONELLII.

Henke did not see Bonelli's Eagle ; but an example has been
obtained near Sarepta.

AQUILA LAGOPUS.

The Bough-legged Buzzard is very common in winter near
Astrakhan. This bird is undoubtedly an Eagle, and not a
Buzzard.

HALIAETUS ALBICILLA.

The White-tailed Eagle is very common all the year round.
It builds on very high willow trees, and lays from one to
three eggs, frequently slightly spotted.

HALIAETUS LEUCORYPHUS.

Pallas' s Sea-Eagle is occasionally found on the steppes,
where it breeds on the ground. On the banks of the Volga
it builds on the willows.

ClRCAETUS GALLICUS.

Henke did not observe the Short-toed Eagle near the Volga,
but occasionally saw it on the steppes.

PANDION HALIAETUS.

The Osprey is very common in summer on the delta of the
Volga.

BUTEO VULGARIS.

Henke never met with the Common Buzzard near As-
trakhan ; but it is occasionally observed on migration at
Sarepta in spring and autumn.

BUTEO DESERTORUM.

The African Buzzard occasionally breeds near Astrakhan.

BUTEO FEROX.

The Long-tailed Buzzard is rare in the Kirghiz steppes, but
is com moner west of the Volga.



Birds of Astrakhan. 207

MlLVUS MIGRANS.

The Black Kite is extremely common in the valley of the
Lower Volga in summer.

MlLVUS REGALIS.

Henke did not meet with the Common Kite, though Evers-
mann records it from the Lower Volga.

PERNIS APIVORUS.

Henke did not meet with the Honey-Buzzard ; but it has
been seen on migration at Sarepta.

ACCIPITER PALUMBARIUS.

The Goshawk passes Astrakhan on the spring and autumn


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryHenry Seebohm[Ornithological papers] (Volume 2) → online text (page 13 of 23)