Henry Seebohm.

[Ornithological papers] (Volume 2) online

. (page 4 of 23)
Online LibraryHenry Seebohm[Ornithological papers] (Volume 2) → online text (page 4 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

male, collected by Whitely, 17th April, 1865; and I have a
skin collected by Wossnessensky on the 23rd of April, 1 845,
upon ( ' Oorogan Island," possibly either one of the Kurile
or one of the Aleutian Isles.


Motacilla alboides, Hodgson, As. Res. xix. p. 191 (1836).

Motacilla leucopsis, Gould, P. Z. S. 1837, p. 78.

Motacilla luzoniensls, auctt. nee Scop.

Motacilla alba, vay.paradoxa, Schrenck, Reis. u. Forsch. im
Amur-Lande, i. p. 341 (1860).

Motacilla felix, Swinhoe, P. Z. S. 1870, p. 121.

There are five species of white Wagtails found in India.
Two of these are resident species, M. maderaspatana, hereafter
alluded to, and M. hodgsoni, which may be described as a
black-backed M. per sonata. Of the remaining three we have
already disposed of the breeding -places of two, M. per sonata

Mr. II. Seebohm on the Ornithology of Siberia. 347

and M . alba, or, as the Indian bird is generally called, M . duk-
hunensis. The remaining species, M. luzoniensis, inhabits the
eastern plains of India in winter. S winhoe has clearly pointed
out (P. Z. S. 1870, p. 120) that this bird has no right to the
name luzoniensis. Scopoli founds his name upon " La Ber-
geroiiette a collier de Tile de Lu9on" of Sonnerat, in his
' Voyage a la Nouvelle Guinee/ vol. i. p. 61, pi. 29. Sonnerat
describes the colour of the back as "gris de cendre/'and figures
a Wagtail with a grey back, very white wing-coverts, a white
forehead, cheeks, and throat, but with a gorget of black on
the breast confluent with the black on the neck and head.
It might represent a female of M. hodgsoni, or a male of M.
per sonata in winter plumage ; but inasmuch as no white Wag-
tail has been recorded since from this locality, I think we are
perfectly justified in cutting the Gordian knot by ignoring
the name altogether.

M. alboides is in summer a black-backed Wagtail with a
black breast. The forehead is white, and a white band sepa-
rates the black on the head and neck from the black on the
breast, as in M. alba ; but besides the black back, it differs
from M. alba in never having the throat black. In winter
the back is more or less grey, but the shoulders remain

I think there can be no doubt whatever that this bird is
the Motadlla alba, var. paradoxa of Schrenck, who figures it
and describes it as breeding in the Amoor-land.


Motadlla lugens, Temm. et Schl. Fauna Japonica, Aves,
p. 60, pi. 25 (1850).

Motadlla japonica, Swinhoe, Ibis, 1863, p. 309; P. Z. S.
1863, p. 275.

After having just stated that the amount of white on the
wing of a Wagtail cannot be considered a specific charac-
ter, it may appear somewhat paradoxical to assert that the
principal and most trustworthy character of this bird is the
great amount of white on the wing. In this species, however,
it is not only the wing-coverts, but the secondaries and some of

348 Mr. H. Seebohm on the Ornithology of Siberia.

the primaries which are more or less white. M . lugens may
always be recognized by some of the secondaries being white
across both webs, and frequently one or two of them are pure
white throughout . The amount of white on the primaries
varies very much. In summer this species comes very near
M. maderaspatana, having a black back, and the white on
the head being confined to the forehead and supercilium.
On the average M. lugens is a smaller bird than M. maderas-
patana ; but large skins of the former species measure more in
length of wing than small skins of the latter species. In M.
maderaspatana the black on the head comes down in a peak to
the base of the bill. M. lugens has a pure white forehead,
the black on the head not approaching within half an inch of
the base of the bill. This appears, however, not to be a per-
fectly stable character, as I have a skin in my collection of
the last-named species from Hakodate, in which the black
of the forehead comes down in a peak to the base of the bill,
as though a not very remote ancestor of this individual had
migrated to India instead of China for the winter, and had
there intermarried with one of his cousins, as our friends the
Crows are in the habit of doing. In winter M. lugens comes
very near to M . ocularis. Both species have then grey backs,
black heads, a gorget of black on the throat, and a black line
passing from the base of the bill through the eye, and joining
the black at the back of the neck. M. ocularis is, however,
a grey-backed Wagtail, both summer and winter, and has a
grey shoulder ; whereas M. lugens loses the black on the back
in winter, but retains it on the shoulder the whole year.
Independently of these minor differences, the amount of white
on the primaries and secondaries of M. lugens serves to distin-
guish it easily at all seasons of the year.

The geographical distribution of this species, so far as I
have been able to ascertain it, from the examination of well-
authenticated skins, appears to range from Kamtchatka to
Japan in summer, and in winter along the coast of China and
the opposite islands, Formosa, &c. I can find no evidence of
its having been found further west. The skins in Dresser's
collection, collected by Severtzoff in Turkestan (Ibis, 1876,

Mr. H. Seebohm on the Ornithology of Siberia. 349

p. 177), are M. hodysoni. Middendorff's skins of M. lugens
in the St. -Petersburg Museum are M. ocularis. In the same
museum there is, however, a fine series of skins of the true
M. lugens from Kamtchatka.

The synonymy of this bird, simple as it appears, is most
bewildering. We have the authority of Mr. Hume (' Stray
Feathers/ v. p. 434) for the assertion that, in the opinion of
Professor Alfred Newton, " nomenclature bears the same re-
lation to real natural history that rat-hunting does to real
sport/' Be this as it may, I do not know any one fonder of
a "rat-hunt" of this kind than Professor Newton. In his
article on the Pied Wagtail, in his new edition of Yarrell's
' British Birds/ we have an excellent resume of a day's " rat-
hunting." The first rat he starts is Motacilla lugubris, Pallas,
and after running it through the fourth and third parts of
Temminck's ' Manual of Ornithology/ he finally loses the
scent in the first part in 1820 (ed. 2, p. 253). The descrip-
tion here given being that of a bird which, in Professor
Newton's opinion, is " unquestionably identical " with the
British Pied Wagtail, that bird becomes M. lugubris, Pallas,
apud Temminck ; and since there is no evidence that Pallas
ever gave the name of M. lugubris to any Wagtail, our British
bird becomes M. lugubris, Temminck. The next " rat " that
Professor Newton starts is M. lugens, Illig. This, he tells us
in a footnote (loc. cit.}, he chased as far back as 1850, where
he suddenly lost the scent in the ' Fauna Japonica.' I must
confess that my attempts to run down this animal have been
still less successful. I started it in Oustalet's ' Oiseaux de la
Chine ' (p. 300), where I was at once tripped up by two errors
(" F. Jap. Aves, 25," should read " F. Jap. Aves, p. 60, pi. 25 ";
and Swinh. (1860) 357," should read " Swinh. Ibis, 1860,
p. 357 "). I picked up the scent again in the P. Z. S. 1870,
p. 130, and stumbled on two more errors (" P. Z. S. 1863,
p. 17," ought to be " P. Z. S. 1863, p. 275," and "Ibis, 1863,
p. 85," ought to be "Ibis, 1863, p. 309 ") . Recovering myself,
I pursued the trail through Schrenck's f Amur-Lande/ 1860,
with only a slight mishap (the page in Pall. Zoogr. Rosso-
Asiat. i. intended to be referred to is 507, not 307), and I

350 Mr. H. Seebohm on the Ornithology of Siberia.

lost the scent altogether in Middendorff's ' Sibirische Reise/
p. 166 (1851). Since Professor Newton has not been able
to kill this rat, as, I think, we may fairly infer from the foot-
note already referred to (Newton's ' Yarrell/ i. p. 541), I am
driven to the conclusion that " lugens, III./ 3 and " lugubris,
Pall./' quoted by Middendorff, are both myths. My next
attempt was to try and catch a M. lugens of Pallas, or of any
body else. I had nearly as many stumbles in this as in the
previous runs. In the ' Fauna Japonica' Schlegel gives a
reference to Temminck's ' Manuel ' as " part iii. p. 620/' which
ought to be read " part iv. p. 620," an error which I found he
had previously made in his ' Rev. Grit, des Ois. d'Eur.' p. 68.
In spite of these difficulties I did not lose the scent until 1832,
where, so far as I have been able to trace it, M. lugens,
Pallas, appears for the first time in Kittlitz's ' Kupfertafeln
zur Naturgeschichte der Vogel/ p. 16, pi. 21. fig. 1, from

From this peninsula there is fortunately a series of skins
in the St. -Petersburg Museum, which I had an opportunity
of examining, and which I identified as M. lugens of Temm.
& Schl. Kittlitz describes his bird as the commonest sum-
mer bird in Kamtchatka, and remarks that in autumn it has a
white throat, bounded beneath by black, and an ash-grey back.
The description is very meagre, and the plate of the bird in
breeding-dress represents a state of plumage which I have
not seen. The throat is in full summer plumage, i. e. black
to the base of the bill, but the cheeks remain in winter plu-
mage. A reference to the excellent plate of M. luff ens in the
' Fauna Japonica ' (pi. 25) will show that in full breeding-
plumage the black on the throat extends up to, and forms
one mass with, the black line through the eye.

We must admit that the description and also the plate of
M. lugens, Pallas, apud Kittlitz, are scarcely as satisfactory
as we could have wished upon which to found a species ; but
as the Japanese bird is the only Pied Wagtail hitherto found
in Kamtchatka, there is at least a strong probability that
Kittlitz's name refers to this bird. There is no evidence to
prove that Pallas ever named a bird M. lugens. M. lugens,

Mr. H. Seebohm on the Ornithology of Siberia. 351

Pallas, apud Temminck (Man. d'Orn. iv. p. 620), is identified
with M. lugubris (Man. d'Orn. iii. p. 175), which undoubtedly
includes the Japanese bird. Our bird therefore stands as
M. lugens, probably of Pallas apud Kittlitz, partly of Pallas
apud Temminck, certainly of Temminck and Schlegel. Since
it only involves a change of authority and not of name, this
seems to me to be a case in which we may safely avail our-
selves of the strict letter of the rules of nomenclature, and
call our bird Motacilla lugens, Temm. et Schl., on the ground
that this name was " clearly denned " for the first time in the
' Fauna Japonica/ rejecting also Swinhoe's name of M.
japonica, as having been subsequently given, under the erro-
neous impression that the name M. lugens " had already been
applied to the very different western species" (vide P. Z. S.
1870, p. 130).

It is somewhat remarkable that such an eventful day's (e rat-
hunting " should end without a kill, that of the three rats
started (M. lugubris, Pall., M. lugens, Pall., and M. lugens,
Illig.) every one should be run to earth, and that there is the
strongest probability that all the three "rats" are phantom
rats, myths. It is still more remarkable that the references
to these names should be quoted with so many blunders ; but
perhaps the most remarkable circumstance of all is, that Pro-
fessor Newton, in the note already twice referred to, should
have " made another complication " by starting a fourth
phantom rat, M. lugens, Illig. apud Schlegel *.


I shot a solitary example of the Blue-headed Wagtail with
the white eye-stripe on the llth June, on the Arctic circle.
This bird had probably accidentally migrated with the large
flocks of M. viridis beyond his usual latitude.

* Since the above was written, Professor Newton has pointed out to
me that in all probability it was Bonaparte who first ascribed the name
" lugens " to Illiger in 1850, the correctness of which statement Midden-
dorff no doubt took for granted in 1851. Professor Newton desires to
correct his footnote (Newton's ( Yarrell,' i. p. 541) as follows : " ....
and the Japanese form therein appeared as ' M. lugens ,' a name ascribed by
several writers, and amongst them Bonaparte (Consp. Av. i. p. 250), to
Illiger ; but whether . . . ."

352 Mr. J. H. Gurney's Notes on


The Grey-headed Wagtail arrived in flocks on the Arctic
circle on the 5th of June, and soon became extremely abun-
dant. It does not seem to extend its range beyond the limit
of forest-growth, and disappeared about lat. 69.


This beautiful bird was the first of the yellow Wagtails to
arrive at our winter-quarters. I secured the first example on
the 4th of June, and afterwards found it very abundant on
the tundra as far north as we went.


One solitary example of the Grey Wagtail fell to my gun
on the 6th of June. As this is the first time that this bird
has occurred within the Arctic circle, so far as I am aware,
it may be looked upon as an accidental occurrence. I may re-
mark that my bird, with a tail measuring 3* 75 inches, is inter-
mediate in form between the eastern and western varieties.
[To be continued.]

XXIV. Notes on a ' Catalogue of the Accipitres in the British
Museum/ by R. Bowdler Sharpe (1874) . By J. H. GURNEY.

[Continued from p. 164.]

BEFORE referring to the genus Helotarsus, to which I shall
next have occasion to advert, I am desirous of briefly no-
ticing an additional specimen of Circaetus cinereus which
has recently been acquired by the Norwich Museum.

This example, which is from Abyssinia, agrees closely in
coloration with that from Nubia described in my last paper
(antea, p. 162, no. 18), and, like it, has no white bases to the
feathers on the under surface.

Its principal measurements are : Wing 22*2 inches, tarsus
3 '9, middle toe s. u. 2*4, culmen 2*1.

I have already mentioned that I consider the genus Helo-
tarsus to be an abnormal member of the Circaetine group ;
and I am desirous of offering a few remarks upon it, as sup-
plementary to those contained in Mr. Sharpens volume.



No. IX. JANUARY 1879.

I. Contributions to the Ornithology of Siberia.

[Continued from 'The Ibis/ 1877, p. 352.]


On the 14th of June I recognized the note and caught a
distant sight of a small flock of about half a dozen Wax-
wings ; but the forest was so much flooded that I was unable
to do more than watch the birds through my binocular.


I did not meet with the Coal-Tit until I reached Yen-e-
saisk' on the return journey.


The Great Tit is a winter resident in the whole of South
Siberia ; and at various villages on the journey as far north
as Yen-e-saisk' it was frequently seen. I did not observe it
further north.

PARUS PALUSTRIS, Linn., subsp. camtchatkensis, Bon.

The only time that I met with a Marsh-Tit was on the
12th May. I only saw one pair, in company with a small
party of Lapp Tits. They certainly belong to the north-
eastern form, with grey rather than brown backs, and with

SER. iv. VOL. in. B

2 Mr. H. Seebohm on the Ornithology of Siberia.

the black on the head extending far down the back. I can-
not distinguish a Yeii-e-say' skin from others from Irkutsk
and Archangel. It seems to me impossible to allow specific
rank to the arctic and subarctic forms of P. palustris, and I
think they ought to figure as subspecies only P. palustris ,
subspecies borealis, and P. palustris, subspecies camt-

PARUS CINCTUS, Bcdd., subsp. grisescens, Sharpe et Dresser.

I found the Lapp Tit tolerably common in the forests on
our arrival on the Arctic circle. It was seldom that I made
a round on snow-shoes in the forest without falling in with
a small flock of these birds. I did not, however, observe
them further north. I brought home a very large series.
They agree with skins from Lake Baical in being much less
rusty on the flanks than specimens from Europe usually are.
They vary considerably inter se ; and it would be easy to make
a series from the Norwegian bird, through Archangel and
Petchora skins, to the extreme Siberian form. My Yen-e-
say' skins certainly belong to the Parus grisescens of Sharpe
and Dresser ; but the authors of that title would now, I believe,
scarcely claim specific rank for the bird they described.


The Fieldfare arrived at the Arctic circle on the 8th of
June, and soon became very abundant. I took several nests
with eggs during the first week in July. It seemed to be
generally distributed over the country, breeding alone or in
small parties, and not in the large colonies which are so fre-
quently met with in Norway. The call-note of this bird, a
loose tsik-tsak, was almost constantly to be heard ; but the
song seemed to be confined to the pairing-season. It is a
low and not particularly melodious warble, and is generally
commenced when the bird is on the wing. The last nest of
the Fieldfare which I found was in lat. 69, on the tundra.
Here the bird was breeding on the ground under the edge
of a cliff, in a situation such as a Ring-Ouzel might have
chosen. I did not see the Fieldfare further north than lat.
70i; but I shot them as far south as Yen-e-saisk', in lat. 58,

Mr. H. SeeboLm on the Ornithology of Siberia. 3

where they appeared to have been breeding, as it was only
the middle of August.


I shot the first Redwing on the 5th of June. It appears
to arrive earlier than the Fieldfare, and to go further north.
On the Arctic circle it built its nest in the willows and birches,
but generally nearer the ground than the Fieldfare usually
does. In lat. 71 the Redwing was still common and breed-
ing on the ground, generally on a sloping bank. I did not
see it further north.


The first Thrush to arrive at the Arctic circle was this
species the Dusky Thrush (T. fuscatus of Pallas). Small
parties of it arrived on the 4th of June, and were to be found
feeding on the steep banks where the sun had melted the
snow. Their call-note reminded me of that of the Redwing.
During the next week they were very plentiful, and I began
anxiously to look out for their nests ; but within a fortnight
after their arrival they had all disappeared, and I saw no
more of them until the 12th of July, during our voyage down
the river. On this day we cast anchor for a few hours in
lat. 69, and I went on shore to explore for the first time a
Siberian tundra. I climbed up the steep bank, and found
myself in a wild desolate-looking country, full of lakes,
swamps, and rivers, in some places a dead flat, in others un*
dulating, and even hilly, brilliant with gay flowers, swarming
with mosquitoes, and full of birds. In sheltered places dwarf
willows and creeping-birches were growing, and (because we
were only some fifty versts from the forests) here and there
a few stunted larches. Winding through the tundra was the
bed of a river, now nothing but a small deep valley, forming
a chain of isolated lakes and pools. This river-bed bears the
name of the dried-up Doo-din'-ka, and is about fifty versts
to the north-west of the real river Doo-dm'-ka. On some of
the northern slopes large patches of snow were still lying.
Most of the birds evidently had young. I found myself
generally the centre of attraction of a little crowd of birds


4 Mr. H. Seebohm on the Ornithology of Siberia.

uttering their various alarm-notes as they flew round or
waited on some shrub or plant with their bills full of mos-
quitoes, anxious to feed their young as soon as I was out of
their way. As I was returning to the shore., and descending
a steep sloping bank covered with patches of dwarf birch and
willow, overlooking a flat willow-swamp which evidently once
formed a little delta at the mouth of the dried-up Doo-dm'-ka,
my attention was attracted by a pair of Dusky Thrushes
loudly proclaiming the vicinity of their nest. I shot one of
them, .and, after a diligent search of half an hour, found the
nest in ?the fork of a willow bush level with the ground. It
was exactly like the nest of a Fieldfare, lined with dried,
grass, and contained, alas ! five young birds about a week old.

At noon we weighed anchor ; but at midnight it was blow-
ing such a stiff gale that we were afraid to round the " broad
nose " of Tol-stan-os' in the ' Ibis / so we cast anchor under
the lee of the mud cliffs of the Yen-e-say', and I again went
on shore. In some places the cliffs were very steep, and were
naked mud or clay. In others the slope was more gradual,
and was covered with mud and alder bushes. Among these
bushes I found the Dusky Thrush again breeding, but was
only able to find one nest with five nearly fledged young.
The nest was placed, as before, in the fork of a willow, level
with the ground. This was the last time that I saw this
species of Thrush.

There is considerable variation in the colour of the skins
of this species which I brought from the Yen-e-say', espe-
cially in the amount of black on the breast and red on the
upper plumage. Some specimens have more or less rufous
on the tail-feathers, approaching T. naumanni. One male in
particular has scarcely any red tinge in the plumage, and lias
even grey instead of chestnut axillaries. The young in nest-
ling plumage differ from the young of T. pilaris, T. iliacus,
T. obscurus, and T. atrigularis, in having more buff on the
'wing and less buff on the breast.


During the first week of June the forests were practically

Mr. 11. Seebohm on the Ornithology of Siberia. 5

impassable. The deep snow was in process of melting, and
too soft to bear the weight even when distributed over a pair
of snow-shoes each measuring 4 feet inches long and 10
inches wide. On some of the steeper slopes exposed to the
south small oases of bare ground were to be found. One of
these, close behind my quarters, thinly covered over with
bushes, was a very prolific hunting-ground for me during the
spring migration. On this piece of ground, on- the 7th of
June, I had the pleasure of shooting my first brace of Dark
Thrushes (the Turdus pollens of Pallas, but not the Turdus
pallidus of Gmelin) . A couple of days afterwards I shot two
more on the same ground. As soon as the forests were pass-
able I made daily rambles, and almost always heard the song
of this bird. Turdus dubius had gone further north to breed ;
but this species was evidently stopping and making prepa-
rations to build its nest. This Thrush is a very poor songster,
but he has a splendid voice. He warbles two or three clear
rich notes, as mellow as those of a blackbird. He stops ; his
song is finished; and you hear no more for a minute, when
the same brilliant prelude is repeated. On the 27th of June
I had the good luck to take the nest of this bird. It was
placed upon a horizontal branch of a somewhat slender spruce,
about fifteen feet from the ground. The female flew off as
I approached the tree. I shot her, and soon had the nest
with five eggs in my hand. The nest is carefully made, neatly
lined with mud and afterwards with dry grass. The eggs
resemble small but richly marked Blackbird's eggs. I did
not meet with this interesting Thrush further north than the
Arctic circle ; but on my return journey, in lat. 66, on the
3rd of August (and afterwards in lat 63, on the 6th of
August), I shot the young in first plumage, with spotted
backs and spotted breasts. One of these skins will be figured
in Dresser's ' Birds of Europe/


Whilst the remains of the ice were still straggling down
the Ycn-e-say' I occasionally caught a hasty glance at a
dark-coloured Thrush with a very conspicuous white eyebrow ;

6 Mr. H. Seebohm on the Ornithology of Siberia.

but I did not succeed in shooting one until the 19th of June.
It was feeding amongst the dead leaves on the ground in a
dense birch plantation. It proved to be a fine male in adult
plumage. I made the following memorandum of the colours
of the soft parts : " Bill black. Iris dark hazel. Pupil
blue- black. Legs very light brown, yellower at the back of
the tarsus and on the soles of the feet." In lat. 68 my com-
panion assured me that he saw one of these very handsome
birds on the wing ; but I did not observe it myself after we
left the Koo-ray'-i-ka, nor did I observe it at all on the
return journey. It seems to be a very shy and wary bird,
and it is evidently a very rare Thrush in the valley of the
Yen-e-say '. Middendorff does not mention it ; but I heard of
it from a Polish exile at Toor-o-kansk' as ihe*Chor' -noi drohzd,

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryHenry Seebohm[Ornithological papers] (Volume 2) → online text (page 4 of 23)