Wednesday 31 October 2012

Polynesian Ground-Dove: Alive but Critically Endangered

The Polynesian Ground-Dove (Gallicolumba erythroptera), thanks to the spread of the Black and Polynesian rats, domestic cats and loss of habitat, like a number of the compatatively few species of birds that reached what is now French Polynesia, is critically endangered. The total world population is estimated by Birdlife International at 100-200 individuals, equating to 70-130 mature individuals. Importantly, many of the populations on the atolls on which they survive are very small.

Rangiroa is the largest atoll in French Polynesia, 80 km long and 32 km at its widest. One motu (island) of the four hundred and odd was cleared of rats in 2005. The Société d'Ornithologie de Polynésie (MANU) have been ringing (banding) and monitoring the ground-doves there in recent years, as part of their efforts to conserve this species and its habitat.

On 4 November 2009, MV Clipper Odyssey entered the lagoon and moored near the passage through the reef and the inhabited motus. We there there on a Noble Caledonia Expedition Cruise around French Polynesia. Brent Stephenson, was ornithologist on board and had arranged for five of us to be picked up from the ship by Hugo in his fast (and rat-free) boat after breakfast. After about 50 minutes with the outboards at full throttle we reached the rat-free motu (actually two) and waded ashore. The air and trees were full of nesting sea-birds.

A short search in the undergrowth soon revealed a ringed male ground-dove — a bird seen by Brent on an earlier visit — unconcernedly searching the litter for food. Here is part of the video I took that morning:

We emerged from the undergrowth and waded to the adjoining motu as Bristle-thighed Curlews (Numenius tahitiensis) appeared on the coral and sand at the edge of the lagoon. These are the birds that  fly for over 6000 km non-stop to reach their breeding ground in Alaska and then do the reverse trip to spend the northern winter on Pacific islands from Micronesia to French Polynesia.

We saw three ground-doves — all males and the speculation was that the females were incubating.

It was difficult to tear ourselves away from the islands to get back to the ship. As we walked back to the boat, one of our party said, We are just so privileged to have seen this spectacle of what the whole of French Polynesia must once have been like. There was complete agreement.

Bottle-nosed dolphins joined the boat as we crossed the lagoon and, yes, we were late for lunch.

A different male Polynesian Ground-dove

A view from the lagoon side of the motu. Waves can be seen breaking
between motus on the reef

In 2011 nine ground-doves were found at this site by MANU.

MANU are making great efforts in conservation in French Polynesia. They deserve great praise and support. Their website is at:

Information on the Polynesian Ground-dove can be fund at:

Saturday 27 October 2012

Donors of Reptiles to London Zoo 1915: 2. John C Dendy

In the last post I described what I had found on Albert L de Lautreppe. This week, it is the turn of John C Dendy.

This is what Clin Keeling wrote:

All I know about Master J.C. Dendy (as he was described in the Occurrences Book) was that he lived at Vale Lodge, Vale of Health, Hampstead, London N.W.1, that he kept a large herpetological collection and that, on 16th July 1915, he presented it to the Society. It comprised Chicken, Wolf’s [sic], Tessalated [sic], Dark-green, Say’s, King, Aesculapian and Corn Snakes, Seps (a primitive skink believed by the Arabs of North Africa to be poisonous, in fact the word “septic” is derived from its name), Green and Six-lined Lizards, Horned “Toads”, two terrapins, and Edible Frogs. As I say this is all I have to go on, but I rather suspect he was a public school boy who, adding a few non-existent years to his age, had decided to go to war — a state of affairs by no means rare in the early stages of the conflict — and such evidence that there is suggests he did not come back.

Well, John C Dendy was clearly John Cantaned Dendy, the then 15 year-old son of Professor Arthur Dendy (1865-1925), Professor of Zoology at King's College, London. At the 1911 Census, the family was living in Weybridge, Surrey.

Arthur Dendy, with a degree from what became the University of Manchester, worked on sponges collected by the Challenger Expedition at the British Museum (Natural History), then at the University of Melbourne, Canterbury College, New Zealand (where John C was born) and Capetown, South Africa, before being appointed to the Chair at King's in 1905. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1908. Although his main work was on sponges and planarians (he collected extensively in Australia in New Zealand), he also worked on Peripatus and on the development of the Tuatara (Sphenodon). There are a number of websites covering Arthur Dendy (his obituary was in Proceedings of the Royal Society B 99 xxxiii-xxxv, 1926):

Arthur Dendy FRS

But what of John, born circa 1901 in New Zealand, who donated his collection to the Zoo at the age of 15? I can find no evidence of any involvement in the First World War or that he failed to survive. Indeed, his father's obituary states that he settled in South Africa. One of his journeys can be seen in the shipping lists available on family history websites. He and his wife arrived at Southampton in December 1949 from Captetown and returned four months later. His employment is shown as farmer. Did he retain an interest in reptiles while farming in South Africa? Was his early enthusiasm for reptiles gained from his father who worked on reptiles on New Zealand and in South Africa?

Thursday 18 October 2012

Donors of Reptiles to London Zoo 1915: 1. Albert L de Lautreppe

Clinton Keeling (1932-2007) in the later years of his life published a number of his own books on the history of zoos and the keeping of wild animals in captivity. He often referred to the books kept by London Zoo which listed the daily happenings. The books provide more than a glimpse into social history as well as the history of the Zoo and the Zoological Society of London.

In one of his books, A Short History of British Reptile Keeping, published in 1992, he referred to a few of the donors of reptiles and amphibians to the Zoo and bemoaned the fact that only in a few cases had he been able to trace who those donors where and what became of them. These are extracts from his book:
In my book They All Came Into The Ark I mentioned a number of people who had deposited reptiles and amphibians at the London Zoological Garden during the period covered by the first world war, and I can see no great harm in doing so again here, perhaps in a little more detail… 
...Albert L. de Lautreppe, 1 Ravenna Road, Putney, London S.W. presented quite a large collection of lizards (Horned Toads…) and terrapins - particularly Diamond-backs. 
All I know about Master J.C. Dendy (as he was described in the Occurrences Book) was that he lived at Vale Lodge, Vale of Health, Hampstead, London N.W.1, that he kept a large herpetological collection and that, on 16th July 1915, he presented it to the Society. It comprised Chicken, Wolf’s [sic], Tessalated [sic], Dark-green, Say’s, King, Aesculapian and Corn Snakes, Seps (a primitive skink believed by the Arabs of North Africa to be poisonous, in fact the word “septic” is derived from its name), Green and Six-lined Lizards, Horned “Toads”, two terrapins, and Edible Frogs. As I say this is all I have to go on, but I rather suspect he was a public school boy who, adding a few non-existent years to his age, had decided to go to war — a state of affairs by no means rare in the early stages of the conflict — and such evidence that there is suggests he did not come back.

The history of keeping reptiles and amphibians in captivity has received little attention, particularly in the private, i.e. non-zoo, sector. I was intrigued by Clin’s examples and realised that by using a combination of genealogical sources and Google, of course, it should be possible to uncover more about the donors than Clin had managed. I chose the above extracts because on these cases I have been able to shed more light.

Albert L de Lautreppe

Lautreppe’s story starts easily enough but then gets more complicated.

He arrived in London on 14 January 1915 from New York, a 1st class passenger on S.S. Minneapolis. He had entered the U.S.A. from Mexico at El Paso, Texas on 5 December 1914. Lautreppe is shown as being 58, a mining engineer of French nationality and a permanent resident of France. Incidentally, the S.S. Minneapolis had only just returned to her Atlantic run after transporting the British Expeditionary Force to France at the outbreak of the First World War. In February 1915, she returned to military transport, and was torpedoed and sunk by a U-boat in the Mediterranean on 23 March 1916.

All the reports show that Lautreppe was a mining engineer and a plant- and animal-collecting naturalist who operated first in Peru and then Mexico. I think we can assume that he acquired the lizards and terrapins in Mexico and the U.S.A. or the U.S.A. as he travelled to New York. On this occasion, he had been in Mexico since 1914. He was en route to Mexico when he arrived from Le Havre in New York on S.S. La Lorraine on 13 April 1914.

We find him also crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S. in 1906.

There are a number of references to his plant collecting and of specimens arriving at the New York Botanical Garden. In the botanical literature he is listed as a collector from 1902 to 1905 in Mexico and Peru. Examples of references to him are:
Mr Albert de Lautreppe who was commissioned last year to obtain material for the Garden during his visit to Peru on a mining errand, has recently returned, bringing with him a notable collection of small cacti which have mostly been incorporated into the public series— in conservatory house No 5, a considerable number of other living plants and over two hundred packets of seeds which have been sown in the propagating houses. He also secured some herbarium specimens, principally of lichens. Journal of the New York Botanical Garden, volume 3, 1902.
Plants for the conservatories from Chihuahua and Rio Balsa, Mexico. Journal of the New York Botanical Garden, volume 5, 1904.
The average rainfall of Zacatecas for the past ten years, as stated by Mr Albert L. de Lautreppe, who has made a special study of the weather records in connection with his business venture...U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Plant Industry, Bulletin 102, 1907.

The following are from Addisonia (New York Botanical Garden), volume 1, 1916.

Lautreppe clearly had an interesting time in Peru. An article syndicated to a number of U.S. newspapers in 1902, dealing with the financing of rubber ventures by J.P Morgan and his associates in South America, discussed the border conflicts between Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. It continued: 
But Peru has a plan to get in far ahead of them all and build a railroad that shall tap the rich country and carry its products to the Pacific Coast over the mountains.
To ascertain the best route, that nation commissioned a French engineer, Albert de Lautreppe, of Paris, to explore the country and find a road. He led an expedition and reported that the plan was feasible.
Now he has arrived in New York with remarkable news. He found immense rivers spanned by wonderful bridges made of basket work by the natives. More remarkable than all, he found tribes of cannibal Indians, whose boast was that they would never allow white men to pass through their country. By diplomacy and generous presents he managed to win, if not their friendship, at least suffererance, and he reached his objective point after many dangers but without being harmed.
The long article goes on to describe his encounter with the tribes and ends with the following paragraphs:

De Lautreppe says tha he can not tell why they permitted his party to cross their territory alive. “the Chunchos,” he says, “told us that they had massacred three white men in Carabaya just before we arrived. Just why we escaped trouble I can not explain, as they were entirely fearless and our firearms caused them neither surprise nor alarm. Somehow we had the luck to a peace which neither of us broke. It may be they were convinced that we were not after their women, which seems to be a great cause of tribal wars there. Most tribes are short of women, and, therefore, they raid each other frequently.” 
All the tribes that he found exist solely by hunting and rove over great extents of territory. De Lautreppe says that the country throughout shows evidence of great wealth in gold, and that Peru can open it by building less than 400 miles of railroad, part of which, indeed, is already under construction.
Lautreppe also patented inventions. For example:
Albert Le Cocq de Lautreppe, a citizen of France and a resident of New York ...have invented certain new and useful improvements in Stills. U.S. Patent 744367, 17 November 1903.
After the war, on 19 June 1919, he was granted a patent in London for an invention submitted on 29 May 1917. Wireless control of distant apparatus. Improved means of controlling movement in two directions from a distance (GB 127848). The example in the patent is the control of a rudder by radio. Shades of drones to come.

One and the Same Person?

Things now get more complicated. In a letter from Vailima, his house on Upolu in Samoa, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote:
We have two guests in the house, Captain-Count Wumbrand and Monsieur Albert de Lautreppe. Lautreppe is awfully nice — a quiet gentlemanly fellow. Gonfle de Reves, as he describes himself — once a sculptor in the atelier of Henry Crosse, he knows something of art and is really a resource to me.
The question is, of course, whether this Lautreppe, the former sculptor, is our Lautreppe, the mining engineer and naturalist, in later life. I strongly suspect that he is since the writer S.R. Lysaght (1856-1941) describes visiting Vailima on Easter Sunday 1894 and meeting Lautreppe, a French naturalist [my emphasis]:
At dinner in the evening, when all the household was assembled, Mrs Stevenson and Mrs Strong, Lloyd Osborne and Count Wurmbrand, a charming and cultivated Austrian soldier acting at the time as chief cowherd on the Stevenson Farm, with the addition on one or two occasions of M. de Lautreppe, a French naturalist on a visit to the island, a delightful companion, we were a merry and odd-looking party. The Living Age, Boston, 10 January 1920.
Gonfle de Reves which, I think, translates as 'inflated dreams' implies that he had tried to be a sculptor and now did something different.

Robert Louis Stenvenson only survived a few months after this visit; he died on 3 December 1894.

Vailima in 2008, Robert Louis Stevenson's House in Samoa

Vailima is good for seeing wildlife. This skink is I think Emoia nigra
and the Flat-billed Kingisher (Todirhamphus recurvirostris) can be found
in the tress surrounding the lawns.
It would also seem that our Lautreppe is also the author of an article on American Samoa: Our Samoa Station. The Island of Tutuila, The Latest Acquisition of the United States in the Pacific. This was published in Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, July 1900, and a summary appeared on several U.S. newspapers at the time. He also had an article on Samoa in the French periodical, L’Illustration, in 1898.

The only reference to a sculptor Lautreppe I have found is in L. Farrer’s Biographical Dictionary of Medallists volume 3, published by Spink and Son in 1907. Felicien William Albert Le Coq de Lautreppe, pupil of Henry Cros, exhibited a medallion depicting Sir William Gladstone at the Salon in 1883.

The last reference I can find to Albert Le Coq de Lautreppe is his arrival in New York (aged 62 years, 3 months) with his wife, Olga (61 years, 10 months) on 28 February 1919 from Le Havre on S.S. Rochambeau.

There are other possible references in the U.S. newspapers to Lautreppe. M. Le Coq Lautreppe organised talks on French songs with an accompanying singer. When he cancelled the event, the singer displayed great and public outrage at her treatment.

Lautreppe had presented animals to the zoo before 1915. A very incomplete search shows that on 25 September 1893 (remember he was, if it is the same Lautreppe, in Samoa on Easter Sunday — March 25th — 1894) he gave the zoo the gerbil, Gerbillus longifrons from Tunis (now included in Meriones crassus, Sundevall’s Jird) and Long-tailed Field Mouse (Mus [Apodemus] sylvaticus). Since the latter also occurs in north Africa, I would imagine he thought he had something less common than a species that could be caught in Regent’s Park.

Finally, and before dealing with Master Dendy in the next post, why did he collect and donate animals to London Zoo and why, in 1915, was he staying at 1 Ravenna Road, Putney? In the 1911 Census, 1 Ravenna Road was divided into flats. Was he staying in one of the flats on his return from Mexico in 1915? Was his stay in London connected with the patent application for a radio-controlled rudder? Help is needed from a French genealogist to take the story any further.

Friday 5 October 2012

Tubenoses and Salt Glands: Up to a Point Mr Packham

Chris Packham, in BBC’s Springwatch Guide to Sea Birds, discussed the tubular extensions to the nostrils of petrels (Procellariiformes). He repeated the common explanation that they serve to remove secretion from the salt glands, adding that otherwise the salt solution would fall on the feathers. They certainly do act as conduits for salt-gland secretion. Shortly after Knut Schmidt-Nielsen discovered salt glands, he wrote an article in 1959 for Scientific American illustrated by a photograph showing salt gland secretion being blown from the tubular nostrils of a petrel.

The late Jim Linzell and I repeated this explanation and reproduced the photograph in our 1975 monograph, Salt Glands in Birds and Reptiles. However, I recall that we both had qualms on whether removal of salt-gland secretion was a real explanation for the evolution of tube noses. Of course, the secretion will come out that way and blowing the secretion out would keep the air channels clear (some species have separate channels in the nostrils for air and secretion). However, other marine and potentially marine birds that have operative salt glands manage perfectly well without tubular extensions. Because we had no other explanation for the adaptation we concluded:

Continuous flight may hamper the flow of fluid from the nostrils because of the current of air over this region and the tubular extensions through which the fluid can be blown by a forced expiration could well act in the way Schmidt-Nielsen suggested.

We did not know then that sea birds have remarkable powers of olfaction and that they use it to detect their prey in the open ocean.

It has been suggested that the tubes serve to direct the current of air to the olfactory epithelium. But is there something special about the tubular arrangement in addition? Does it help in some way to find the direction the odour of prey is coming from while birds fly a zig-zag pattern towards the source? Has anybody looked at the patterns of air flow in the nostrils of birds with and without tubular extensions?

You can see the tubular extensions in this young Murphy's Petrel
(Pterodroma ultima). I photographed this chick on Ducie Atoll in the
Pitcairn Islands on 24 October 2010

So, if I were revising Salt Glands in Birds and Reptiles today, I would point out that salt-gland secretion is blown from the tubular extension to the nares but add that the morphological adaptation is more likely to reflect the survival advantage of an improved efficiency of olfaction rather than of extra-renal excretion.

Schmidt-Nielsen, K. (1959) Salt glands. Scientific American 200, 109-116.

Peaker, M. & Linzell, J.L. (1975). Salt Glands in Birds and Reptiles. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.

Remarkably, I find our monograph was re-published as a paperback by CUP in 2009 (ISBN:9780521112031) and is available from their website:

Thursday 6 September 2012

Olympic Nerves

I am sure psychologists would be able to pick out those who have ever been students of comparative anatomy by asking what comes into mind when they hear the word Olympics.

The response is, of course, the mnemonic for the cranial nerves that begins, On Old Olympus('s) Towering Top. I was introduced to it by Harry Hadwen, a very good biology teacher, when we began A Level Zoology by dissecting a dogfish. Hacking away the cartilage in the head of a dogfish reeking of formalin, though, was never my idea of fun. He said he had been taught, On Old Olympus's Towering Top A Finn and German Viewed Some Hops but that another version had become popular after the First or Second World War ending in, A Fat, Armed German etc. We soon realised that this was merely an intermediate stage to the final version the previous generation had developed: On Old Olympus's Towering Top A Fat-Arsed German Viewed Some Hops. That's the now politically incorrect version that  stuck in my brain and is an automatic response to Olympics.

I wonder what version the Greeks use.

I see there are some very rude mnemonics for the cranial nerves that do not involve Mount Olympus. Harry Hadwen would not have approved of them.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Tuamotu Sandpiper — a Morning Encounter with an Endangered and Strange Bird

There are some species of birds that have the appearance and behaviour of having been designed by a committee of civil servants. The mesites of Madagascar constitute one such example. However, there is another.

The Tuamotu Sandpiper (Prosobonia cancellata) now occurs on only a few atolls in French Polynesia and is classified as Endangered. Rats, cats and human expansion have taken their toll and only five atolls now have a population according to the latest reports by Birdlife International.

A sighting of this species is highly desirable to the ‘World Lister’, that curious breed of bird watcher (bird ticker is a better term) that attempts to see as many species as possible, often, unfortunately, with little or no understanding of what they are seeing. Hard-core bird ticker trips usually head at very great expense for Tenararo, in the Actaeon group of the Tuamotus, where sightings of the bird are the most reliable.

The first time we went to Tahanea atoll in 2009, nobody on board Clipper Odyssey knew it was worth looking for the Tuamotu Sandpiper. Had they done done so, Brent Stephenson, the ornithologist on board this Noble Caledonia expedition cruise, would not have let the opportunity pass us by. Tahanea is a drop-dead gorgeous, straight out of south sea island tourist brochure, atoll. The ship enters the lagoon through a gap between the motus — the islets that surround the lagoon. Zodiacs set off to explore the motus and for snorkelling. An excellent morning. We were not disappointed when, the next year, in 2010, we saw that on another Noble Caledonia expedition cruise from Easter Island, via Pitcairn, to Tahiiti, we were to visit Tahanea again. This time word had got out that there were Tuamotu Sandpipers on a rat-free motu and there was research in progress on this species. On the outward voyage from Tahiti to Easter Island, Clipper Odyssey was carrying a Zegrahm Expeditions cruise. They had visited Tahanea and seen the beast. This time Simon Boyes was ornithologist on board for Noble Caledonia and he had a rough map showing which motu was the one to visit. As soon as the ship was anchored in the lagoon, the expedition team set off to find the landing place. We followed in Zodiacs across the large lagoon (Tahanea is a large atoll, 48 km long and 15 km wide). Those interested in seeing the bird split up to explore an area of scrub bounded by the beach and by a depression in the coral part-filled by water. Simon thought he had seen the bird flittering upwards soon after he arrived as part of the scouting party. I scanned the side of the depression and saw  a small brown wader running across and going into the scrub. Just enough of a look to say it was the sandpiper but not enough to get the others on to it. We managed to signal to Simon and party coming from the other side and both these groups moved to meet in the middle. As we met, the third group flushed the bird from where I had seen it running and it flew into a tree where it clambered about like a passeriform rather than a wader. I tried to get some video footage but it was really out of range of my camera and my ability to hold the camera sufficiently still at full zoom. I did get some footage but it was too shaky to be of much use. Then Maggie, who had flushed the bird and who had the lens with the longest focal length, went forward as far as possible and took the shot you see below. As I was trying for more video, the bird clambered along the branches for a short time and then flew with its strange flittering flight into the scrub again. As we returned in the Zodiacs across the lagoon to the ship (the Zodiac drivers clocked more than 100 miles that day), we realised we had seen not only a very rare bird but also a very unusual one, and what turned out to be an even more unusual than we then thought.

Maggie's photograph of the Tuamotu Sandpiper

Since returning to UK I have been keeping an eye on reports of research on this species in Tahanea and elsewhere, while also wondering what this bird’s salt gland would be doing in this habitat.

Marie-Hélène Burle, an MSc student at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, has done the work and links to websites showing research reports are shown below. She spent 5 months in the austral summer of 2008-2009 on Tahanea, with another 4½  months in the austral winter from May 2011. In that time she has made what I would consider remarkable progress in understanding this bird and its habitat on 27 motus of the atoll and I look forward to reading the papers that will emerge. I will only draw attention to two aspects here.

We knew that the bird is an unusual member of the Scolopacidae. It does not frequent beaches and mud but low vegetation. It has a short bill and legs. It has short, rounded wings which give it the characteristic flittering flight. It perches and moves amongst the branches in trees. But what we did not know is that the bird is, as Marie-Hélène Burle discovered, a nectar feeder. Of course, it takes any small organisms that it finds but a nectar-feeding wader takes the my prize for adaptation this year. The work begun on the structure of the tongue (an unusual shape) that Marie-Hélène Burle has started should prove informative.

She also exterminated the rats on one motu to investigate the effects on the bird and observed a crash in the population in 2011 (55% of the birds died within a month on Tahanea) after an overwash from an unusually strong swell. On her third visit (detailed in her report linked below) she plans to study breeding success after this perturbation as well as to follow up the results of the rat eradication.

I am filled with admiration for the dedication lone workers who spend months in the field. I think Marie-Hélène Burle (and the organisations who have supported her financially and organisationally) has done and is doing a great job in finding not only far more about this species than anybody has done in the past but also pointing the way to the key requirements for its conservation. I cannot help but comment that as an MSc student she could point out that PhDs have been awarded for far less.

So we not only saw a very unusual wader during our morning in Tahanea but a nectar-feeding wader. And yes, I did chant out loud, as the outboard motor propelled us as maximum revs to the ship, the last sentence in the Origin of Species — the one beginning, There is grandeur in this view of life...

Tahanea - showing the scrubby vegetation to the right where the Tuamotu Sandpiper was found; the lagoon is on the left.


Birdlife International - Tuamotu Sandpiper

Reports and Press Reports on Marie-Hélène Burle's Research

Brent Stephenson's Blog

Simon Boyes's Website

Noble Caledonia Website

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Tahiti - Introduced Birds - More Information

Following up my account of Eastham Guild’s introduction of birds to Tahiti, I now have much more information plus an inconsistency.

I found a copy of Carrie Guild’s book, Rainbow in Tahiti, on The book is the British Empire edition, published in 1951. The US edition was published in 1948. It is a book of its era and gives an account of how the Guilds (pronounced by them to rhyme with ‘wild’) came to travel and settle in Tahiti. A fixed, unearned income went a lot further in Tahiti than in Europe. They acquired land and built a house, Te Anuanua, at Paea, a village on the west coast of Tahiti, on a derelict vanilla plantation. They arrived in Tahiti in 1923 and left after the fall of France as transport across the Pacific became difficult, food supplies became limited and with the threat of the Vichy regime taking over French Polynesia.

I haven’t been able to locate the site of Te Anuanua. Several places, as viewed in Google Earth, fit the clues gleaned from the book. My guess is that it was to the north of the river at Paea where the mountains are closest to the lagoon. The road round the island bisected the property which ran from the beach to the mountains, and the house was built between the mountains and the road. The answer must lie somewhere in the land records in Papeete.

A misleading clue in the Foreword by James Norman Hall (1887-1951, author with Charles Nordhoff of Mutiny on the Bounty, 1932), is that the house was 18 miles from Papeete. Paea is 18 kilometres not miles, from Paea. But the Hall & Nordhoff version of the mutiny on HMAV Bounty is not renowned for its accuracy either.

A whole chapter in the book is devoted to birds and how Eastham Guild first came to release them from his aviary. They eventually released 10,000 birds of 55 species from waxbills and humming birds to pheasants and black swans.

And that’s where the anomaly appears. According to the excellent website of the Société d’Ornithologie de Polynésie (MANU) there are at present 11 introduced species surviving in the [Royal] Society Islands of which Tahiti is one. The Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans) introduced in 1885 in an attempt to control rats appears to have had a devastating effect on the endemic fauna. The Jungle Fowl and Rock Pigeons are feral populations. The Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis) was introduced to combat insects in 1910 and is mentioned in the Guild book. Two species were introduced after the Guilds, the Zebra Dove (Geopelia striata) in the 1950s and the Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) around 1970. Two introduced species are certainly the result of the Guild releases: Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) and Crimson-backed Tanager (Ramphocelus dimidiatus). However the MANU website lists the following three species as being introduced before the Guilds arrived: Common Waxbill (Estrilda astrild); Red-browed Firetail (Emblema temporalis) and Chestnut-breasted Mannikin (Lonchura castaneothorax), the first at the beginning of the 20th century, the others at the end of the 19th century. Nevertheless, all three species were released by the Guilds and included in the list of birds which had nested and reared young in the wild. The Guilds in their book and articles make no mention of these species occurring in Tahiti before their releases. That is the anomaly. Did the Guilds add to already-present introduced populations of three species, or are the records of earlier introductions wrong? The view that only two of the species introduced by the Guilds survived has been copied into the scientific literature. I suspect that view is wrong.

The Guilds received many visitors including Dr James Paul Chapin (1889-1964) the noted ornithologist of the American Museum of Natural History:

Although in principle he disagreed with Ham over the introduction of birds from other lands, he finally admitted that the experiment was a noble one and certainly had been a success.


Although Tahiti was clearly home base for the Guilds, they travelled widely and became involved with aviculturists throughout the world. A delicious chapter in the book describes a visit to Woburn in 1936 with Alfred Ezra (1872-1955) the wealthy aviculturist (commemorated by a plaque at the entrance to the Bird House at London Zoo) to visit the 11th Duke of Bedford (Herbrand Arthur Russell, 1858-1940), saviour of Père David’s Deer, and his son the Marquess of Tavistock (Hastings William Sackville Russell, 1888-1953) later the 12th Duke. Father and son had only recently been reconciled and Carrie Guild’s description of the argument between them on whether Rolls-Royces or Fords should be used to transport the visitors around the estate, conducted in ‘monosyllabic monotone’, is priceless.

The reason for the visit to Woburn was parrots, for Tavistock had asked the Guilds to collect for him some of the lorikeets or vinis from French Polynesia to add to his large collection. Extinct on Tahiti, it was, and is now further, restricted to other islands of French Polynesia. The Guilds by visiting these islands and arranging collection and transport by others, gathered about sixty birds, mostly Coryphillus [sic][Coriphilus] [Vini] peruvianus [peruviana]’. The mostly is interesting. The others were the Marquesas Lorikeet (V. ultramarina sometimes known as C. smaragdinus). The Guilds brought the vinis by ship through the Panama Canal and then to London, where they were collected by Tavistock’s heated lorry for delivery to his aviaries in Sussex. This trip with birds which feed on nectar was no mean feat with 38 of the 40 birds surviving. The trials and tribulations are described in the book. Tavistock did in fact go on to breed both Vini peruviana and V. ultramarina, reporting his results in Avicultural Magazine in 1938 and 1939.

After the War

I was left wondering whether the Guilds had returned to Tahiti after the war. There is a great deal of information on the movement of individuals in and out of the USA on A quick search showed the Guilds arriving from Tahiti at San Francisco on 2 January 1946 on board M/S Thor I. In my searches I had never some across a photograph of Eastham or Carrie. However, the same search showed that US passport applications are in the public domain and have been scanned. Eastham’s passport (a joint application with his then wife Olive Boyd Guild) in 1920 shows his photograph and date of birth (14 April 1889) and does Carrie’s also from 1920. She is shown as a widow, Caroline Heywood, born 12 August 1893. Eastham was in 1920, treasurer of Schmitz & Guild of 110 State Street, Boston. Carrie’s travels before the war were under the name Heywood. Olive Boyd Guild is shown as divorced in the 1930 and 1940 US Censuses; died in 1974 — see below. Was that why Eastham and Carrie were living in the Netherlands in 1922?

The story does not end there though. I find that Olive Boyd Guild bought a piece of land in 1958 which passed to her son Eastham Guild Jr on her death in 1974. Eastham Jr (1915-2007) gave the land to the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust and it is now the Green Point Reserve, West Bath, Maine. The Guild natural history story thus passes from French Polynesia back to New England, leaving in Tahiti the results of an experiment that still excites the interest of ecologists and conservationists while horrifying them at the same time.

Eastham Guild - Passport Application 1920

Caroline Heywood - Passport Application 1920

References and Links

Guild, Caroline. 1948. Rainbow in Tahiti. Doubleday
Guild, Caroline. 1951. Rainbow in Tahiti. London: Hammond, Hammond

Information on M/S Thor I:
First Breeding Register (Avicultural Society):
Eastham Guild Jnr:
Green Point Reserve, West Bath Maine:

Monday 23 July 2012

Marine Iguana Lek

We were in the Galapagos in January travelling on the motor yacht Cachalote as part of an excellent Naturetrek tour led by Darwin Alvarez. January is an excellent time to visit the Galapagos — the sea is relatively calm, the daytime temperature not too high, the rains are turning the hillsides green and many animals are breeding.

A basking male Marine Iguana on Fernandina

January is the height of the breeding season for Marine Iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus). I had never seen this species alive before despite writing about its salt gland in the 1970s.
After an early morning landing from a panga at Punta Espinoza on Fernandina (Narborough in the old British nomenclature of the islands), we found the Marine Iguanas in the full swing of displaying and mating. On a flattish, large lava bed tens of males were displaying. Females were coming to this site and some were mating. I suddenly realised that what we were seeing was a lek. I could not recall seeing anything about lekking in the guide books and so had to wait until I could do a Google search to see if lekking had been described in this species. Of course, it had — but not until the 1990s, and was the first species of reptile in which this behaviour had been discovered.
Here are some links to accounts of lekking in the Marine Iguana:

I spent some time taking video of Marine Iguanas on Fernandina as well as on the other islands. You can see the area of the lek about half way through this video of mating marine iguanas, as well as shots of the males displaying.

Fierce territorial disputes were also in progress and the next video, taken a few hundred yards from the scene of the first, shows one such dispute:

Incidentally and surprisingly, despite being a major destination for wildlife and general tourism and the excellence of the local guides, there is no really good field guide to the birds and reptiles of the Galapagos.

Saturday 14 July 2012

Ethiopia Video

Naturetrek have taken my video footage I sent them of our late 2011 trip, The Best of Ethiopia plus the Bale Mountains Extension to see the Simien Wolf (Canis simensis) and have made a short version that can now be seen on YouTube.

If you would like to see some of the footage I uploaded to YouTube and which expands the summary version, follow the links from the following video which shows the Bale Monkey (Cercocebus djamjamensis). This monkey lives on bamboo and we felt both lucky and privileged to see them moving and feeding — in and on bamboo. How does this close relative of the Vervet/Grivet digest bamboo?

Monday 2 July 2012

Howard Bern

I was sorry to read that Howard Bern had died in January aged 91. Howard was probably the last survivor of the heyday of comparative endocrinology that was such a powerful force in university zoology departments from the 1950s to the 80s.
May first introduction to his work was in the first week of the first term at Sheffield when Ian Chester Jones (1916-1996) was Professor (university departments then, wisely, had only one professor). Chester Jones had worked hard to promote comparative endocrinology while working on the adrenal cortex and, for some reason, decided to abandon a classical introductory course and, instead, ran one on comparative endocrinology. This brilliant idea pitched us straight into a leading-edge subject. But that course came at a price: the textbook was £4.14.0d - the most expensive book for any course by far and we felt very hard done by. At today’s prices, it would cost £78 and even more if calculated from the rise in pay over 50 years.
The textbook was, of course, A Textbook of Comparative Endocrinology by Aubrey Gorbman and Howard Bern (Wiley, New York and London, 1962). Printed copies had only just arrived in the UK in time for the new student intake.
The final paragraph of the preface is worth reading, 50 years later:
We feel that endocrinology has advanced beyond the point where its goal is merely the better understanding of physiological mechanisms in a single species, be it man or the classical laboratory rat. Endocrinologic information now may be applied to the elucidation of general biologic problems as they arise in comparative physiology, in embryology and in the study of evolution. Rightly or wrongly this field has become known as “comparative endocrinology” … In this, the first textbook of comparative endocrinology, we hope that the student will recognize the important biologic problems whose solutions may be approached through endocrinologic investigation. This may not always be easy because the abundance of facts in this field sometimes obscures the general principles to which they pertain.
I then met Howard a number of times at Berkeley (where he worked from 1948 until his death) when I was visiting Dorothy Pitelka in what was then the Zoology Department. He also came to Gordon Conferences I attended in New Hampshire in the 70s and early 80s. At any meeting he was a major asset, full of rapid-fire comments.
In those days, the room used for Gordon Conferences at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, NH, had very comfortable easy chairs at the front and hard chairs further back. Howard made sure he got there early. At the 1975 meeting of what is now known as the mammary gland biology conference, Jim Linzell was giving the main invited (Thursday Night) talk. S.J. Folley, the endocrinologist, had recently died and Jim had referred to his work early in the lecture. When he came to a problem to which he didn’t have an answer, he looked towards the sky and said, Perhaps Folley knows. Instantly, Howard turned round to face the audience and proclaimed loudly, He’s looking in the wrong direction!
Then at the 1981 Gordon Conference he was again at the front when Joe Meites (1913-2005), another well-known endocrinologist of the time, rose to ask a question: Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment…. Before he could continue, Howard interrupted with: Don’t be fooled by that. It isn’t an advocate, it’s the Devil himself!

Biology of Milk Gordon Conference, Colby-Sawyer College, New London, New Hampshire, 9-13 June 1975

1975: John Kinsella (1938-1993), Dorothy Pitelka (1920-1994), Howard Bern (1920-2012), Jim Linzell (1921-1975), M.P., R Lee Baldwin (1935-2007)
Mammary Gland Biology Gordon Conference, Colby-Sawyer College, 8-12 June 1981

Howard taught me a lot about the politics of US science in a very short space of time. In public, comments and questions were polite to the point Brits were often asking for the sick bucket. However, Howard had been elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1973 and in 1975 asked Jim Linzell, Dorothy Pitelka and I to join him in choosing a delegation to represent the USA on a visit to Japan (Howard was well know in Japan and had an onsen in his Berkeley back yard). Then the knives came out on who could be 'let out' in the wider world. We soon learnt that the public and private faces of American science were very different.
The last time I spoke to Howard was, I think, in 1986 at the Physiological Congress in Vancouver. He was giving an invited talk early in the morning on the UBC campus and I got to the lecture theatre early, so early that I was the first to arrive. Howard was already in the front arranging his script and slides. ‘Morning Howard I shouted across the theatre. Are you looking forward to giving this lecture at this hour in the morning? The shouted reply was instant: No, !‘m shitting green, shitting green, as the second and visibly shocked member of the audience entered.

Colby-Sawyer College. The meeting room, coffee and the essential frig were through the large doors at the bottom of the hill

Colby-Sawyer College - the original home of the mammary biology Gordon Conferences

Sunday 24 June 2012

Tahiti - Introduced Birds

The islands of Polynesia are ecological disaster zones — from New Zealand in the west to Easter Island in the east and to the Hawaiian islands in the north. They have suffered from human migration and settlement that brought predators, pests, destruction of habitat and the introduction of competing non-native species.
We first arrived in Tahiti in 2009 by air from New Zealand to join m/v Clipper Odyssey for a Noble Caledonia Expedition Cruise around French Polynesia. We were intrigued to see in the grounds of the Hilton Hotel (a less than efficient establishment that closed in 2010 because the tourist fashion had moved from Polynesia to pastures new) Chestnut-breasted Mannikins (Lonchura castaneothorax) and Red-browed Firetails (Neochmia temporalis) from Australia. Short walks produced Common Waxbills (Estrilda astrild) from Africa and Silvereyes (Zosterops lateralis) from Australia. Asian Common Mynas (Acridotheres tristis) were everywhere.
Information on the birds of French Polynesia is difficult to obtain (the best source of information being the website of the Société d’Ornithologie de Polynésie (MANU). I read that the myna had been introduced in 1910 to combat insects and thought, wrongly, that some of the other species’ presence must have been the result of cage birds escaping.

Hilton Hotel - Chestnut-breasted Mannikins and Red-browed Firetails abound

Only recently and quite by chance did I discover that thousands of birds had been deliberately imported and released in the early decades of the 20th Century. I had acquired a number of old Avicultural Magazines and for another purpose entirely (more of this later) was skimming through them looking for articles. I came across an article published in 1938 and written by Eastham Guild entitled Tahitian Aviculture: Acclimatization of Foreign Birds (Avicultural Magazine Series 5, 3, 8-11 with a follow-up letter on page 63).

I can do no better than quote the following extracts from the article:
To the average person the mention of a tropical island immediately brings forth a vision of rich green foliage, brilliant flowers, and exotic birds. Tahiti is no exception to this general impression as far as foliage and flowers are concerned, but for some reason there is practically no bird life, and, according to reports made by early voyagers and by ornithologists visiting the island later there have never been many kinds of birds here.
Since the climatic conditions were favourable and the profusion of grasses,  weeds, and flowers provided a variety of foods, I could see no reason why certain small birds from other countries of similar climate should not thrive here and I started the experiment with a few Fire Finches and Cordon Bleus which I personally brought with me from Dakar, West Africa. The French Government has been very sympathetic in my experiments, giving me necessary permits to import birds and has passed local laws prohibiting all shooting and trapping. Likewise the British Consul General has aided me considerably to obtain permits to secure some of the exquisite and rare Australian finches. I am just now expecting through the curtesy of Mr H.B. Brown, Secretary of the Taronga Zoo of Sydney, a shipment of about five hundred birds from Australia, including Gouldian, Long-tailed and Star Finches all to be liberated as soon as they have been properly conditioned.
So far, I have liberated about five thousand birds, of forty-four different kinds…
Before liberating any birds they are kept in aviaries a sufficient length of time to observe their habits and to condition them. Upon arrival they are put in a special house for observation and any sick birds are immediately removed. The well birds are put in conditioning aviaries to stay until they are in perfect plumage.
As soon as I feel they are in a normal condition the birds are transferred to the liberating aviaries which face the rose garden beside my house. In the rose garden are feed dishes for the birds at liberty, to which five or six hundred birds come regularly four times a day, in response to my whistle. In the flights of the liberating aviaries are feed dishes exactly like the ones outside in the rose garden...On the side of the flights facing the garden and feed trays are trap doors which can be operated from the terrace by cords. When I feel that the birds in the aviaries are sufficiently accustomed to the routine of feeding, I carefully pull open the trap door and let a few birds out every day until the cage is empty…
Gradually, through the presence of the birds I have imported, people on the island are becoming bird conscious. The Governor, Monsieur Chastenet de Géry, has established a feeding dish in the grounds at Government House; also James Norman Hall, co-author with Mr Charles B. Nordhoff of Mutiny on the Bounty, has put one up on his property to attract any birds that may wander to his side of the island. Mr Nordhoff, who is keenly in water fowl, has done a great deal to promote this interest by liberating Wood and Mandarin Duck as well as California Quail and Pheasants.
We are receiving great help and encouragement from France through the untiring efforts of Monsieur Jean Delacour who is doing everything possible to protect the birds throughout the French colonies.

Strange as it may seem in the 21st Century, the deliberate introduction of foreign species for the benefit of man was not uncommon and acclimatization societies existed for that very purpose. Indeed, such activities were included in the Royal Charter of the Zoological Society of London (1829) with robust demands from Fellows of that society for the domestication of antelope, for example, as new farmed species for their English estates. As late as 1871, the American Acclimatization Society was founded with the aim of introducing European animals and plants into North America ‘as may be useful or interesting’.

Guild’s use of the word acclimatization in the title of his article reflects the use of the term in that context, not just as we may use it today to mean adaptation. Sadly, the acclimatization movement did damage, and, even though defenders of the mindset still exist in 2012, the whole idea is now looked on with horror and disbelief.
Out of such introductions, accidental or deliberate, the only good that has arisen seems to be from studying the ecological factors that enabled populations of some species to thrive while others died out. In this connexion it is interesting that of all the species of bird introduced into Tahiti, only a few have thrived. References to some of this work are at the end of this post.
I was intrigued by Eastham Guild and a Google search soon produced lots of leads. He (‘Ham’) and his wife, ‘Carrie’, were American socialites who flitted between their house in Tahiti and the USA. There are shipping records in of his passages from Tahiti to the ports of the USA, the first I can find being in 1925. His wife was a a big game fisher, catching a world record black marlin in 1932. A large tuna he sent to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia was named after him. Unfortunately, the name was overturned as a synonym of the yellow-finned tuna or albacore (Thunnus albacares).The Guilds were apparently responsible for naming the cocktail ‘Mai Tai’ in Trader Vic’s restaurant in San Francisco. In short, they were American old money.

The article in the Boston Globe and reprinted throughout the USA gives some idea of the lifestyle (this is the version in Milwaukee Journal 21 July 1948):
Boston Couple Carved Paradise Out of 10 Acres of Tahiti Jungle
Tahiti is a long, long way from Boston, but it’s really worth the trip, says Caroline Guild, who spent 17 years in the soft, lazy paradise.
I turned my back on Boston years ago, she says.
Miss [sic] Guild was educated at Wellesley, disillusioned with conventional society after graduation and “reborn” in Tahiti.
Back for a spell of civilization, the tall, wiry individualist sat in the offices of Doubleday, publisher of her recent book Rainbow in Tahiti. She puffed at cigarets [sic] through a long holder, and she wore a blue blouse with mandarin sleeves. Her feet were encased in cerise slippers and she stretched them out languorously.
Although my New England ancestors date back to 1633, I had to get away, she declared. I didn’t want to be bound to the dull Joneses or the Cabots. I didn’t care to be bound to any routine living, and so I wanted to escape. I was an only child. Maybe that had something to do with it.
Miss Guild (it is pronounced to rhyme with wild, or she gets that way) voyaged to Tahiti with her husband, Eastham Guild, formerly of Newton. They met in a conventional way, a tea, and he shared her views on romantic escapism. Her prime interest was horticulture (flowers) and his aviculture (birds) and so Tahiti became their destiny. But first they escaped to Europe and dwelt for a considerable time in Holland.
Holland was the land of Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, and appealed to us at first, she remembered.
Then we read a book, Frederick O’Brien’s Mystic Isles of the South Seas. You might say that this one book really decided us to move to Tahiti. We went, and took our daughter, Martha, with us.
At first the searching couple found Tahiti very ugly, and full of unlovely smells. But with great industry and faith they turned a 10 acre bit of jungle into a beautiful home with spacious gardens.
Miss Guild sat in her chair, clutched the shining dragon that was pinned near her heart. One cerise slipper began tapping the floor.
We not only discovered, but we developed our paradise. she said. We made our home the show place of the south seas.
On wrapping paper she had drawn plans for the house. Furniture was shipped from Boston, bathroom fixtures from San Francisco, and fine logs from a nearby shipyard. The place was christened Te Anuanua (Rainbow’s End) and the natives gave her a name Pikake (which means Jasmine).
I landscaped those 10 acres of gardens, every inch of it myself. There were 10,000 tulip trees, gardenia bushes by the hundreds, rare hibiscus, ginger plants. I raised the flowers and gave them away to the natives to beautify the island.
We got up very early, and all day long I would work in the garden, remembering how stunted my life would have been had I remained in Boston. And my husband, Ham, spent his time with the birds. He imported hundred of gorgeous species and let them breed.
To their “show place” came trans-Pacific travelers [sic] by the score. Guests included Vincent Astor, Zane Grey, Dole Porter, and Billy Leeds, the tinplate king. The authors of Mutiny on the Bounty cycle, Nordhoff and Hall, were very friendly.
“Carrie” as she was known to the guests, had not entirely lost her American ways. She insisted upon everyone dressing for dinner, even though everyone walked about in shorts during the day. And she cooked gourmet delights.
She had brought down a Fanny Farmer cook book, and taught the natives some of the American recipes. They taught her the joy of eating varo — a fat sea centipede prepared in herbs and olive oil.
Varo is out of this world, she assured her listener. You break the shell with your fingers, dip it in sauce and suck out the meat. And we also loved suckling pig.
Then she invented a rum recipe.
It has a rum base, tropical crushed fruits and dozens of fresh limes. Also native brown sugar. You let the whole thing stand 24 hours, dilute with white wine, then pour the whole business over a block of ice. Gardenias float on top of the bowl for decor. There is only one thing left to do: Push the gardenias aside and drink it.
And the parties!
When there is a full moon over the tropics, the sky is so light you can read a newspaper; and the stars seem to fall to your feet. We held most of the parties in the light of the full moon, along the end of our 180 foot pier.
Natives gliding by in their canoes would be silhouetted in the distance. There would be singing and guitar playing and dancing, with the young men and women going through their paces. The drinking was copious, and everyone would start doing the hula-hula. The Tahitian hula-hula is much faster than the Hawaiian kind, more hip movements and less gesturing with the hands. Those were unforgettable nights.
Next morning, when the natives came around with hangovers, she would pass out aspirins.
When asked if she missed the gimmicks of civilization - theater, movies, golf, bridge, gossip - Miss Guild pursed her lips in a frosty smile.
No. she said.
Another question: When she walked about in her shorts through those tropical jungles wasn’t she afraid of being bitten by a snake?
Again her answer was very definite. There are no snakes in Tahiti, she replied.
Mrs Guild has one very special feather in her bonnet. An expert fisherwoman, she has written many magazine articles under the name Carrie Fin. And she holds the woman’s world record for having reeled in an 823 pound black marlin off the coast of New Zealand, after a 31/2 hour battle that left her knuckles skinned.
Miss Guild, who has strong muscles in the shoulder area, said she had been an athlete in her Wellesley days; she rowed on the varsity crew. She also had been interested in college dramatics, later tried in vain to become an actress in the style of Charlotte Greenwood, whom she always admired.
Perhaps, she finally admitted, if I had succeeded here on the stage I never would have run off to Tahiti. I felt the next best thing was to create my own stage: it was a sort of substitute. Maybe that was the real reason for going away.
I do not know where their house, Te Anuanua, was in Tahiti. The membership list of the Avicultural Society just shows a PO Box Number, Papeete.
After that vicarious people watching, another long quotation would be too much. However, I cannot resist this one from the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pennsylvania) 5 September 1939:
The Sunday party was given by Mr and Mrs Brooke in honor of their house guests, Mrs Eastham Guild and her daughter, Miss Martha Heywood, of Tahiti. Mr Guild, incidentally, in addition to being the woman who holds the world’s record for the biggest marlin ever caught, and to writing fishing articles for various sportsmen’s periodical, has recently been decorated for horticulture by the French government, for having added to the natural beauty of Tahiti by importing all sorts of flowers and trees from other parts of the world. Both she and he daughter, who is planing to attend Barnard, will live in New York this winter…Entertainment at this particular affair, in addition to everything else, although purely impromptu, was decidedly superior too. Miss Heywood in native Tahitian costume did wonderful native Tahitian dances to the accompaniment of the Brookes’ Tahitian victrola records - and when I say wonderful I mean just that. Although she has lived in Tahiti for 16 of her approximately 17 years, it took her four of them to learn the dances, which look deceptively simple until you try to emulate them.
Poor Martha; just copying that was embarrassing.

Tahiti Iti, the southern part of Tahiti connected by an isthmus to Tahiti Nui. Photograph taken from the grounds of the Paul Gaugin Museum

Links to references: