Journal archives for November 2023

November 07, 2023

2023 bird taxonomy changes - an Australian perspective

Anecdotally, I think there is a public perception that bird taxonomy is quite stable, and that names and taxon concepts rarely change, at least relative to other groups such as plants. However, bird taxonomy is still very much a dynamic field, especially with the advent of molecular studies/technologies, and each year will often usher in 100+ changes, including splits, lumps and newly described species.

This year saw 3 newly described species, 124 new species gained through splits to existing species (mostly the elevation of subspecies to full species), and 16 species lost through being lumped into others, for a net total gain of 111 new bird species. For a comprehensive overview of all of these changes, there is a fantastic summary here: https://science.ebird.org/en/use-ebird-data/the-ebird-taxonomy/2023-ebird-taxonomy-update

I will note that a number of these changes, especially those considering some albatrosses and other seabirds, have already been recognised by Australian sources, some of them for a number of years. For example, the 2012 edition of Pizzey and Knight's The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia already treated the Southern Royal Albatross and Northern Royal Albatross as full species, as too the subspecies of Wandering Albatross and the subspecies of Yellow-nosed Albatross.

All of these changes have either already been implemented in iNat in the last two weeks, or will be implemented in the coming weeks. To help keep track of them all, I summarise all of the changes relevant for Australian birders below (note that I haven't addressed changes to very rare vagrants to locations such as Christmas Island).

SPLITS

1 . Lesser Sand-Plover (Charadrius mongolus) has been split into Tibetan Sand-Plover (Anarhynchus atrifrons) and Siberian Sand-Plover (Anarhynchus mongolus). Note that the genus name has also changed. The Siberian Sand-Plover is the species present in Australia.

All iNat records for Australia were automatically swapped to Siberian Sand-Plover, so no further action is required.

Here is the taxon swap: https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/133048

Here are all Australian observations: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=1505781

2 . Australian Tern (Gelochelidon macrotarsa) has been split from Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica), after previously being considered a subspecies (Gelochelidon nilotica ssp. macrotarsa). Both species are present in Australia.

This split does require some reassessments of previous IDs, depending on where your records are from. All records that were previously identified as Gelochelidon nilotica ssp. macrotarsa were automatically swapped to Gelochelidon macrotarsa, regardless of location. However, records identified only as Gelochelidon nilotica were treated differently depending on location:

a) Gelochelidon nilotica records from Western Australia, the northern half of the NT, and northern QLD stretching down to around Townsville were bumped back to genus. These records could be either Gelochelidon nilotica or Gelochelidon macrotarsa, so they need to each be manually reassessed.
b) Gelochelidon nilotica records from everywhere else in Australia were automatically swapped to Gelochelidon macrotarsa. Although the vast majority of these will now be correctly identified, with eBird noting that Gelochelidon nilotica is a "rare to very rare visitor to Australia", it is worth it to double check them, especially along the Queensland and northern NSW coast, in case they are actually Gelochelidon nilotica.

Here are the taxon swaps:
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/132982
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/132983

Here are all Australian observations currently identified as Gelochelidon macrotarsa: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=1505721
Here are all Australian observations currently identified as Gelochelidon macrotarsa: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=144536
Here are all Australian observations currently identified only to the genus Gelochelidon: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?lrank=genus&place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=144325

Of particular note to me here are the (as of writing) 21 observations currently identified as Gelochelidon nilotica ssp. affinis from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and surrounds, and Adelaide. My knowledge of seabirds is poor, so I will not add IDs to them, but I suspect most of these should actually be changed to Gelochelidon macrotarsa, as they seem unlikely to be Gelochelidon nilotica at face value (based purely on location). [having said that, there do seem to be at least a few genuine ones, so they shouldn’t just be blindly reIDed]

3 . Royal Albatross (Diomedea epomophora) will be split into Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi) and Southern Royal Albatross (Diomedea epomophora). Diomedea sanfordi was previously treated as a subspecies of Diomedea epomophora, Diomedea epomophora ssp. sanfordi. As of writing, this split is yet to be committed on iNat.

Australian records currently identified as Diomedea epomophora ssp. epomorpha will be swapped to Diomedea epomophora.
Australian records currently identified as Diomedea epomophora ssp. sanfordi will be swapped to Diomedea sanfordi.
I am unsure what will happen to records currently only identified to species, and whether they will be rolled back to genus or not. Whether or not they are, I would recommend reassessing any records not currently identified to subspecies as the two are very similar.

Here are all Australian observations currently identified as Diomedea epomophora ssp. epomorpha: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=508986
Here are all Australian observations currently identified as Diomedea epomophora ssp. sanfordi: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=508988
Here are all Australian observations currently identified only as Diomedea epomophora: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?lrank=species&place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=508987

4 . Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) will be split into four species: Amsterdam Albatross (Diomedea amsterdamensis), Antipodean Albatross (Diomedea antipodensis), Tristan Albatross (Diomedea dabbenena), and Snowy Albatross (Diomedea exulans), with these being currently equivalent to subspecies. As of writing, this split is yet to be committed on iNat.

To my understanding this seems like quite a complex situation as these taxa overlap extensively, so I have no idea how the split will be executed on iNat for observations that are not currently identified to one of the subspecies. For observations that are identified to subspecies:

Diomedea exulans ssp. exulans will become Diomedea exulans. Here are all Australian observations currently identified as this subspecies: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=508989
Diomedea exulans ssp. dabbenena will become Diomedea dabbenena. There are currently no Australian observations identified as this subspecies, but it is known to be an occasional visitor.
Diomedea exulans ssp. antipodensis will become Diomedea antipodensis ssp. antipodensis. Here are all Australian observations currently identified as this subspecies: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=508989
Diomedea exulans ssp. gibsoni will become Diomedea antipodensis ssp. gibsoni. Here are all Australian observations currently identified as this subspecies: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=508992
Diomedea exulans ssp. amsterdamensis will become Diomedea amsterdamensis. There are currently no Australian observations identified as this subspecies, but it is known to be a rare visitor off the WA coast.
Here are all Australian observations currently identified only as Diomedea exulans: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?lrank=species&place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=508990. These will need to be reassessed to determine which new species they fall into.

5 . Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche chlororhynchos) will be split into Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche carteri) and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche chlororhynchos). Thalassarche carteri was previously treated as a subspecies of Thalassarche chlororhynchos, Thalassarche chlororhynchos ssp. carteri As of writing, this split is yet to be committed on iNat.

Australian records currently identified as Thalassarche chlororhynchos ssp. chlororhynchos will be swapped to Thalassarche chlororhynchos.
Australian records currently identified as Thalassarche chlororhynchos ssp. carteri will be swapped to Thalassarche carteri.
I am unsure what will happen to records currently only identified to species, and whether they will be rolled back to genus or not. Whether or not they are, I would recommend reassessing any records not currently identified to subspecies as the two are very similar.

Here are all Australian observations currently identified as Thalassarche chlororhynchos ssp. chlororhynchos: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=501159
Here are all Australian observations currently identified as Thalassarche chlororhynchos ssp. carteri: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=501158
Here are all Australian observations currently identified only as Thalassarche chlororhynchos: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?lrank=species&place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=4091

6 . Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) will be split into Eastern Cattle Egret (Bubulcus coromandus) and Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), with these being currently equivalent to subspecies. The Eastern Cattle Egret is the species present in Australia. As of writing, this split is yet to be committed on iNat, but it will be a straightforward one for Australia.

All iNat records for Australia, including those only identified as Cattle Egret and those identified to the subspecies Bubulcus ibis ssp. coromandus, will be automatically swapped to Eastern Cattle Egret, so no further action is required.

Here are all Australian observations: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=5017

7 . Intermediate Egret (Ardea intermedia) was split into Plumed Egret (Ardea plumifera), Yellow-billed Egret (Ardea brachyrhyncha), and Medium Egret (Ardea intermedia), with these previously being currently equivalent to subspecies.

Whilst all Australian observations were automatically swapped to Plumed Egret, including those only identified as Plumed Egret and those identified to the subspecies Ardea intermedia ssp. plumifera, and Plumed Egret is the expected species at any location in Australia (see exceptions below), Ardea intermedia sensu strictu has been documented from Australia (see this paper: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/364226893_Taxonomic_revision_occurrence_and_identification_of_Intermediate_Egret_Ardea_intermedia_in_North_Queensland_Australia), so it's worth keeping an eye out!

Here are the taxon swaps:
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/133047
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/133045

Here are all Australian observations: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=1505779

There are two exceptions here, with two observations of Medium Egret currently in Australian territories, one at Cocos (Keeling) Islands and one at Christmas Island: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=558445

8 . Eclectus Parrot (Eclectus roratus) was split into four species: Moluccan Eclectus (Eclectus roratus), Sumba Eclectus (Eclectus cornelia), Tanimbar Eclectus (Eclectus riedeli), and Papuan Eclectus (Eclectus polychloros). The Papuan Eclectus is the species present in Australia.

All iNat records for Australia were automatically swapped to Papuan Eclectus, so no further action is required.

Here is the taxon swap: https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/133353

Here are all Australian observations: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=19224

9 . Macquarie Parakeet (Cyanoramphus erythrotis) will be split from Red-crowned Parakeet (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae), after previously being considered a subspecies (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae ssp. erythrotis). As of writing, this split is yet to be committed on iNat. However, this split is of no consequence in iNat as the Macquarie Parakeet went extinct in the late 1800s (and indeed eBird notes that it may be re-lumped into Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae in 2024).

10 . North Papuan Pitta (Erythropitta habenichti) and South Papuan Pitta (Erythropitta macklotii) will be split from Papuan Pitta (Erythropitta macklotii), after Erythropitta habenichti previously being considered a subspecies (Erythropitta macklotii ssp. habenichti). As of writing, this split is yet to be committed on iNat.

South Papuan Pitta is the species present in Australia, but note that, other than the common name, there is no actual change here for Australia, as Erythropitta habenichti is New Guinea only.

11 . Supertramp Fantail (Rhipidura semicollaris) will be split from Arafura Fantail (Rhipidura dryas), after Rhipidura semicollaris previously being considered a subspecies (Rhipidura dryas ssp. semicollaris). As of writing, this split is yet to be committed on iNat.

Arafura Fantail is the species present in Australia, but this change has no impact on Australian observations as Supertramp Fantail is not in Australia.

12 . Rufous Fantail (Rhipidura rufifrons) will be split into six species: Gilolo Fantail (Rhipidura torrida), Louisiade Fantail (Rhipidura louisiadensis), Australian Rufous Fantail (Rhipidura rufifrons), Santa Cruz Fantail (Rhipidura melaenolaema), Micronesian Rufous Fantail (Rhipidura versicolor), and Solomons Rufous Fantail (Rhipidura rufofronta), with these being currently equivalent to subspecies. As of writing, this split is yet to be committed on iNat.

Australian Rufous Fantail is the species present in Australia, but note that, other than the common name, there is no actual change here for Australia, as the other species are not found in Australia.

13 . Pink-breasted Flowerpecker (Dicaeum keiense) will be split from Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum), after Dicaeum keiense previously being considered a subspecies (Dicaeum hirundinaceum spp. keiense). As of writing, this split is yet to be committed on iNat.

Mistletoebird is the species present in Australia, but this change has no impact on Australian observations as Pink-breasted Flowerpecker is not in Australia.

14 . Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) was split into eight (!!) species, as follows: Ornate Sunbird (Cinnyris ornatus), Tukangbesi Sunbird (Cinnyris infrenatus), Sahul Sunbird (Cinnyris frenatus), Palawan Sunbird (Cinnyris aurora), South Moluccan Sunbird (Cinnyris clementiae), Flores Sea Sunbird (Cinnyris teysmanni), Mamberamo Sunbird (Cinnyris idenburgi), and Garden Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis). The Sahul Sunbird is the species present in Australia.

All iNat records for Australia were automatically swapped to Sahul Sunbird, so no further action is required.

Here is the taxon swap: https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/132792

Here are all Australian observations: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=144404

LUMPS
No lumps affected Australian species

NEW SPECIES
No newly described Australian species

SUBSPECIES RESHUFFLES
None affecting Australian species

OTHER ASSORTED SHUFFLES
None affecting Australian species

SCIENTIFIC NAME CHANGES
It is important to check observations of these as, where genus names have changed, there may now be unintended disagreements between IDs. For example, the White-Bellied Sea-eagle has changed from Haliaeetus leucogaster –> Icthyophaga leucogaster. If an observation's IDs looked like this:

IDer 1: Haliaeetus

IDer 2: Haliaeetus leucogaster
IDer3: Haliaeetus leucogaster
Overall ID = Haliaeetus leucogaster

That observation will now look like this after the change:

IDer 1: Haliaeetus

IDer 2: Icthyophaga leucogaster
IDer3: Icthyophaga leucogaster
Overall ID = Accipitridae

1 . Norfolk Ground Dove: Alopecoenas norfolkensis –> Pampusana norfolkensis
2 . Hooded Plover: Thinornis cucullatus –> Charadrius cucullatus
3 . Black-fronted Dotterel: Elseyornis melanops –> Charadrius melanops
4 . Oriental Plover: Charadrius veredus –> Anarhynchus veredus
5 . Siberian Sand-Plover: Charadrius mongolus ssp. mongolus/stegmanni –> Anarhynchus mongolus
6 . Greater Sand-Plover: Charadrius leschenaultii –> Anarhynchus leschenaultii
7 . Double-banded Plover: Charadrius bicinctus –> Anarhynchus bicinctus
8 . Red-capped Plover: Charadrius ruficapillus –> Anarhynchus ruficapillus
9 . Kentish Plover: Charadrius alexandrinus –> Anarhynchus alexandrinus
10 . White-bellied Sea-Eagle: Haliaeetus leucogaster –> Icthyophaga leucogaster
11 . Pink Cockatoo: Lophochroa leadbeateri –> Cacatua leadbeateri
12 . Mulga Parrot: Psephotus varius –> Psephotellus varius
13 . Hooded Parrot: Psephotus dissimilis –> Psephotellus dissimilis
14 . Golden-shouldered Parrot: Psephotus chrysopterygius –> Psephotellus chrysopterygius
15 . Paradise Parrot [extinct]: Psephotus pulcherrimus –> Psephotellus pulcherrimus
16 . Golden Bowerbird: Amblyornis newtoniana –> Prionodura newtoniana
17 . Black Butcherbird: Cracticus quoyi –> Melloria quoyi
18 . Mangrove Robin: Eopsaltria pulverulenta –> Melanodryas pulverulenta
19 . Pale-yellow Robin: Tregellasia capito –> Eopsaltria capito
20 . White-faced Robin: Tregellasia leucops –> Eopsaltria leucops

Posted on November 07, 2023 07:58 AM by thebeachcomber thebeachcomber | 22 comments | Leave a comment

November 17, 2023

Deobscuring Tasmanian species

As the main part of my job at the ALA, I'm working with iNat data on both the iNat and ALA ends. Under the National Framework for Restricted Access Species Data, we're trying to act consistently with the framework and make iNaturalist consistent with the state and territory sensitivity lists. Recently, Tasmania's Department of Natural Resources and Environment requested that most Tasmanian species currently being auto-obscured on iNat have their locations opened up. Some of you may have noticed, but I completed this task last week. Some explanations for the situation:

1 . Perhaps the most important point here is to clarify how obscuration works on iNat just for the benefit of those who aren't completely familiar with the process.

a) When an observation is obscured on iNat, the true coordinates entered by the observer are randomly scrambled into a ~500 sq. km box around them. Any other user viewing that record will see the randomly generated coordinates with a box around them; they know the true coordinates are somewhere inside that box, but not the actual location. In addition to the coordinates, the date and time are also removed from the observation, so that only the month and year are displayed. Further, any identifications added to the record will have their timestamp altered to also only show the month and year.
b) When these records get exported to the ALA each week, the obscuration accompanies them, so the records are also obscured in the ALA, ie the coordinates shown in the ALA are the randomly generated ones, and the coordinate uncertainty is listed as somewhere around 29,000-30,000 m.
c) There are many different channels for getting access to the true coordinates if you're a researcher, land manager etc. I won't list them all here, but they include having users 'trust' you on iNat (can be turned on in profile settings) or directly requesting the data from the ALA (the true coordinates do go into the ALA, it's just that they are not made publicly available). So locations of obscured records are by no means lost, just more difficult to access. Also, when updates to coordinates/obscuration are made on iNat, these changes are automatically reflected in the ALA after a week or so.
d) There are two different types of obscuration on iNat.
i . Geoprivacy refers to users manually obscuring their own records. This is done at an individual observation level.
ii . Taxon geoprivacy refers to the automatic obscuration of records by the system. This is done at a taxon level.

2 . Crucial point: any records that you have manually obscured have not been deobscured. This only applies to species that were getting automatically obscured by the system.

3 . The majority of Tasmanian species that were being auto-obscured on iNat before last week fell into one (or both) of two categories:
a) They were being obscured due to IUCN conservation statuses of near threatened, vulnerable, etc. Many of these statuses (for Tasmanian species, and for species in other Australian states) do not correlate with Australian statuses. In particular, there are many species that have been assigned IUCN statuses based on their specific criteria, but do not have any federal or state status in Australia. A lot of these species have been obscured on iNat for a number of years.
b) They were being obscured due to a Tasmania-specific status added earlier this year. The application of the status was correct nominally, but obscuration was accidentally applied when they should have remained open.

4 . So last week, I went through and deobscured close to 600 Tasmanian species that were being auto-obscured, but which Tasmania's Department of Natural Resources and Environment requested to be open. These decisions would have been based on the nature of the threats involved; if a species is threatened by eg increased fire regimes due to climate change, obscuration serves no purpose, and in fact is likely to be detrimental by adding extra steps for researchers to access location data.

5 . The following species have remained obscured on explicit request of the department:
a) Lomatia tasmanica

b) Prasophyllum taphanyx

c) Caladenia vulgaris var. nunguensis

d) Thymichthys politus

In addition to these, there are another 20-25 or so species occurring in Tasmania that are currently being auto-obscured across all observations, however, these are due to IUCN statuses, and I will be removing these soon.

tagging the top Tasmanian observers and identifiers:
@mftasp @wildroo @mattintas @simongrove @elainemcdonald @ben_travaglini @jggbrown @lukemcooo @george_seagull @reiner @jason_graham @annabelc @sofiazed1 @corunastylis @benkurek__ @nicfit @gumnut @tony_d @ttsquid @kallies @kevinbonham @tas56 @elusiveorchids @cowirrie @tasmanian_cryptofauna @george_vaughan @peggydnew

as always, please feel free to tag others that may be interested

Posted on November 17, 2023 03:20 AM by thebeachcomber thebeachcomber | 3 comments | Leave a comment