Malayan Whistling Thrush: Importance of images and publishing your observations

posted in: Photography, Reports | 9

Teo, Allan & Y. C. Wee, 2009. Observations at a nest of Malayan Whistling Thrush Myophonus robinsoni in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysa. BirdingASIA 11: 95-97.

The above publication, just off the press, has attracted the attention of David Bakewell, Lim Kim Chye and Dr Anuar Shahrul. These three researchers are currently conducting a year-long study to clarify identification criteria and status of the Blue and Malaysian Whistling Thrush in Peninsular Malaysia. Their study involves capturing, photographing, measuring and subsequent release of whistling thrushes at various locations. These three researchers are of the opinion, based on photographs published with the above paper, that the bird is a Blue Whistling Thrush of the race dicrorhynchus. In their view, “this dull race of Blue Whistling Thrush is rather commonly misidentified as Malayan…”

The authors welcome their comment and look forward to the eventual publication of their findings and conclusions. It is through scientific interaction like this that we build on our knowledge and in the process learn from one another. After all, this is what science is all about.

The above comment, coming weeks after the above paper was published, brings to mind two very important points.

1. The camera is fast becoming an indispensible tool in modern-day birding – for serious birders, not necessarily for recreational birdwatchers. A clear, crisp image of a bird that is published in a scientific journal will allow specialists researchers to correct a misidentification if there is one. In the absence of photographic evidence, a misidentification can never be corrected and the mistake will be buried forever.

2. The importance of publishing findings and observations in scientific journals can never be over-stressed. Privately circulated newsletters and web-publications have their use. They are useful mainly to citizen scientists and maybe a few professional scientists. But these informal publications do not always reach those who matter – researchers and scientists who are specialists in their own fields.

The above publication on the Malaysian Whistling Thrush has been web-published as far back as March 2008 in five parts: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, with images attached. There is also a post on whistling-thrushes in Malaysia.

However, these did not attract the attention of serious researchers. And if they did, maybe these informal publications were not taken seriously. Only when the consolidated observations were formally published in a scientific journal, in this case BirdingASIA, were the contents taken seriously.

YC Wee
Singapore
August 2009

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9 Responses

  1. Pitiful. That means the whole article was written for the Blue Whistling Thrush? Authors have to be quite versed in birds or at least have a decent knowledge of them to write the way they did. If not for David Bakewell, the amount of mis-information given is not very good for readers. Would-be authors must possessed responsibility and research thoroughly before publishing such papers. This is the minimum they owe to the readers. Such responsibility cannot be simply brushed off or assuaged by stating the 2 points above. Where point 1 is concerned, it is precisely because of the advancement made in cameras and photography that such “clear and crisp images” are gotten of the bird in question. Using the same explanation given, were these pixs subjected to rigorous examination by experts and peers before they see print? An apology in the next bulletin is appropriate in this instance.

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  2. We need to get our perspective right. I see no mis-information. At the most there may be a mis-identification. If so, this can be easily rectified. “Concerned” is being irrational.

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  3. What utter rubbish has this concerned babbler regurgitated! Science has no place for irrational outbursts.

    All observations in the paper are valid. If there is a mid-identification, this is being taken care of. David Bakewell and his team will be communicating with the journal to elaborate on the reasons why they believe that the Cameron bird is a Blue.

    David and his team are currently capturing, measuring, photographing and undertaking DNA analysis to clarify the status and ID criteria of these birds. Until then the Blue will continue to be misidentified as Malayan. Unlike this publication, all earlier ones on the Malayan not supported by images will forever remain suspect.

    As for availability of images, it is not “advancement made in cameras and photography” but rather the skills shown by bird photographers that recently appeared onto the scene. It is telling that all excellent images accompanying recent publications by local birdwatchers have been courtesy of photographers.

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  4. ornitho-wannabe

    Interesting development. What is alarming is how certain non-ornithologists and non-scientists perceive how science and publications operate. Contributing to newsletters, journals that do not peer-review manuscripts, or even authoring books – all these do not automatically make you an ornithologist or even a scientist overnight. Nor do they make you understand how science operate. I just noticed an article “Excuse me, are you an ornithologist” that I strongly recommend “concerned” to read. Just click the box above the “Recent Comments” on the right hand of this blog to access this excellent writeup.

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  5. Come, come YC, why the strong reactions to some legitimate comments? I was glad when “Rational” termed me “irrational” and you continued on that. Wasn’t it only recently that this same blog (was it YC?) derided another group for an honest mis-identification in no uncertain terms? So, that must have been “irrational” then – I understand now. So, science has no place too then for such “irrational outbursts” – I too understand now, thank you. Where I am concerned, mis-identification is perfectly alright, and it has to happen, sometime or later – who do not make mistakes anyway? Man have their frailties. Is there then no place for honest comments, feedback, views and opinions in this blog? Or only the eminently qualified can comment and be believed? Need one be chastised and put down by all for one’s honest views? Is this the platform that this blog is built on? Very elitist, I feel. A parting shot to YC – do you then agree with Bakewell on their comments that it is NOT a Blue WT? Or are you still awaiting for their findings to be published before deciding? If you agree, the proper and immediate thing to do now is to post in all your previous postings a correction to that effect, thereby not mis-leading would-be readers further and informing those that have read that it was mis-IDed. This will be my last posting in this blog and on this matter as I am totally disappointed, taken aback and shocked to hear of such unnecessary and irrational reaction (to a posting that had resulted out of honest intentions) from one none other than the author himself, and one whom I had respected for some time as an eminent academician. When one is so defensive and closed, further debate and comments on this matter will definitely lead no where and serves only to exacerbate the matter. I accept my comments as “utter rubbish”, but will you accept that paper of yours as same? Good luck to you, you need lots of it!

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  6. Another outburst! Pity as this has led “concerned” into irrationality again. Let me deal with the two points you brought up:

    1.The moment we received the note that the Malayan Whistling Thrush may have been misidentified, we immediately posted that fact in the blog. Thus anyone reading any of the many posts on the thrush will be alerted to the controversy. We strive to be transparent.

    2. You brought up the subject of a misidentification case that we posted in the blog. I presume you refer to the Western Marsh Harrier saga. An image was posted by the NSS Bird Group. The bird was later identified to be a juvenile Eastern. The now online newsletter, Singapore Avifauna, quietly corrected the errors, never mentioning the background. BESG posted the controversy and someone rightly asked that all Western records without the benefit of images should be retracted and unless there is a an image to prove its existence, the sp./spp. should be removed from the checklist. Absolutely nothing was done. Members were never informed through the Avifauna. To compound the problem, the group later published “The Avifauna of Singapore” where two earlier sightings of the Western are mentioned, although there were no photographic evidence. And there is also no mention of a possible misidentification. Lim Kim Seng, who chairs the NSS Bird Group Records Committee, is the author.

    BESG has shown moral courage in confronting the problem head on. No so the other party. Now who is misleading readers? Who is being dishonest? Who is not being transparent?

    It is good that “concerned” will not be making any further comments on this matter. Maybe if he has the courage to return and pen under his own name, we would be able to discuss the matter with honesty minus the hysterics

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  7. I feel I must speak up in defence of YC and Allan in this instance.

    In the first case, their article was a useful piece of research. The work that went into documenting the nesting and fledging of the birds was considerable, and their write-up added to what we know of whistling thrush ecology. None of this is invalidated by the misidentification of the birds in question. The observations of the birds were accurately observed and documented.

    In the second place, in misidentifying the birds as Malayan rather than Blue Whistling Thrushes, they are in good company! Even Dr Wells himself was uncertain as to their identity. In fact, the whistling thrush project referred to was initiated in part because I photographed a bird at Cameron Highlands which I initially misidentifed as a Malayan Whistling Thrush. One result of the project has been the development of new identification criteria which are not yet in print, and therefore could not have been known, possibly even if the pictures had been scrutinized by a wider selection of experts.

    Lastly, YC and Allan have been commendably open to correction. It isn’t easy to have to admit one has made a mistake, especially when you have already made your observations public. Yet they have been more than ready to acknowledge that a mistake has possibly been made in this case. I personally think all the more highly of them and their integrity as observers because of this trait, and wish other observers would follow their example.

    Let’s face it, we all make mistakes from time to time, and, as they have pointed out, the positive to take from this incident is that we all get to learn. There is surely no shame in that?

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  8. Your note is much appreciated by Allan and myself. Thank you, Dave.

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  9. […] 4. 2008 March – Through the courtesy of Allan Teo who arranged for 24-hours video monitoring, we were able to observe the nesting of the Malayan Whistling-thrush in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia from our base in Singapore. A series of posts were made, culminating in a paper published in an international scientific magazine, BirdingASIA LINK. Subsequent research in Malaysia revealed that this species was actually Blue Whistling-thrush (Myophonus caeruleus), a species that many had previously misidentified. This however did not make the information any less valuable LINK. […]

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