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.