The 993rd meeting of the Club was held on Monday 18 March 2019 in the upstairs room at the Barley Mow, 104 Horseferry Road, London SW1P 2EE.
Twenty-nine people were present: Miss H. Baker, Miss A. H. Belman, Mr P. J. Belman, Mr R. Bray, Cdr. M. B. Casement, Mr S. Chapman, Dr J. Day (Speaker), Mr G. Davison, Mr G. de Silva, Mrs N. de Silva, Mr G. Hazlehurst, Mr R. Dickey, Miss J. James, Mr G. M. Kirwan, Mr R. W. Malin, Dr C. F. Mann, Mr D. J. Montier, Mr S. Portugal, Mr R. Price, Mr R. Pritchett, Mr D. Prŷs-Jones, Dr R. Prŷs-Jones, Mr R. Prytherch, Mr A. Reaney, Dr P. Rudge, Dr D. G. D. Russell, Mr S. A. H. Statham, Mr C. W. R. Storey (Chairman), Mr J. Verhelst.
Julia Day gave a talk entitled Continental vs. island evolution of a ‘great speciator’: resolving the Zosterops taxonomic conundrum. Different environments, such as islands and continents, have had profound effects on how biodiversity is shaped. While evolutionary processes are predicted to follow different patterns in island and mainland radiations, the extent to which these geographical contexts influence evolutionary trajectories remains poorly understood. This is in part because few studies have focused on species-rich groups of highly dispersive animals, which can colonise both continents and extensive archipelagos over comparable timeframes. In this talk Julia focused on how resolving the evolutionary relationships of white-eyes (Zosterops)—lauded as a ‘great speciator’—in Africa, Arabia and associated islands, combined with morphological data, has allowed us to better understand evolutionary processes across these different geographic landscapes. Julia also discussed how museum collections and genetic data have aided in the task of deciphering the tricky and sometimes infuriating taxonomy of this highly cryptic group, leading to a likely substantial increase in mainland species.
The 994th meeting of the Club was held Monday 20 May 2019 in the upstairs room at the Barley Mow, 104 Horseferry Road, London SW1P 2EE.
Twenty-six people were present: Miss A. H Belman, Mr P. J. Belman, Mr R. Bray, Cdr. M. B. Casement, Mr S. Chapman, Dr R. A. Cheke, Mr O. Crimmen, Mr G. de Silva, Miss J. Hatton, Dr J. Hume (Speaker), Mr R. Langley, Mr R. W. Malin, Dr C. F. Mann, Mr D. J. Montier, Mr E. Masotti-Black, Miss E. Nicholls, Miss B. Okamura, Mr A. Pittman, Dr S. Pringle, Mr R. Price, Mr D. Prŷs-Jones, Dr R. Prŷs-Jones, Mr R. Prytherch, Dr D. G. D. Russell, Mr S. A. H. Statham, Mr C. W. R. Storey (Chairman).
Dr Julian Hume gave a talk entitled Birds of Lord Howe Island: past, present and future. Lord Howe Island, situated 790 km north-east of Sydney in the Tasman Sea, was first observed on 17 February 1788, making it one of the last islands to be discovered by Europeans. It was found during the establishment of a penal colony on Norfolk Island, 896 km to the east, and was used as a ships' refurbishment station both to and from Norfolk. The birds were recorded and illustrated for the next two years, after which the island was used as a whaling station; the first ornithological survey did not take place until 1853. A settlement was established in 1834, by which time an endemic white, flightless gallinule had become extinct due to over-hunting (see Bull. Brit. Orn. Cl. 136: 172–198), followed by an endemic pigeon, known only from two illustrations, and a parakeet shortly afterwards. However, habitat alterations were minimal; therefore a diverse forest bird fauna remained intact.
The accidental introduction of Black Rats Rattus rattus in 1918 due to the grounding of the cargo ship SS Makambo resulted in a wave of native forest bird extinctions and Barn Owls Tyto alba, introduced in the 1920s to control rats, exterminated an endemic boobook by the 1940s. However, several endemics survived this disaster, including a flightless rail and a currawong, both of which were clearly able to tolerate rats. Seabird diversity remains high and they still breed in large numbers on the mainland or on offshore islands, although rat predation and plastic pollution is an ongoing problem. Due to its unique fauna and flora, Lord Howe Island was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982.
A palaeontological survey of Lord Howe Island in November 2018 by the author and others resulted in the discovery of a wealth of fossil material, including the first subfossil remains of the gallinule, pigeon and parakeet. These will help determine morphological similarities and differences between Lord Howe taxa and related forms elsewhere, which in turn will support the possibility of rewilding the island with taxa closely related to those that have gone extinct.
Despite evoking some resentment from some human inhabitants, efforts to finally rid Lord Howe Island of rats using poison bait (PestOff Rodent Bait 20R) will take place in summer 2019. This constitutes the largest, permanently populated island on which the eradication of rodents will have been attempted anywhere. If successful, Lord Howe Island will become a flagship case, evidencing the logistical approach necessary to reverse the negative impact of humans over the last 200 years of habitation.
The 994th meeting of the Club was preceded by the Annual Review Meeting which was attended by: Miss A. H. Belman, Mr P. J. Belman, Cdr. M. B. Casement, Mr S. Chapman, Mr G. de Silva Wijeyeratne, Mr R. Langley, Mr R. W. Malin, Dr C. F. Mann, Mr D. J. Montier, Mr A. Pittman, Dr R. Prŷs-Jones, Mr R. Prytherch, Dr D. G. D. Russell, Mr S. A. H. Statham, Mr C. W. R. Storey (Chairman).
The Review and the Trustees Report and Accounts for 2018 may be accessed at: http://boc-online.org/wp-content/uploads/BOC-Report-and-Accounts-2018.pdf. Chris Storey reported that the administrative year had included implementing the requirements of the new General Data Protection Regulations; integrating the Herbert Stevens Trust deeds into the BOC CIO; finalizing the BOC CIO's banking arrangements and managing the development of the website and the flow of Newsletters and other information.
Richard Malin, Hon. Treasurer, introducing the Accounts for 2018, highlighted the 9% rise in income compared to 2017, a substantial reduction in annual expenditure and the 3% reduction in the Club's assets as a consequence of market conditions during 2018. He added that expenditure in 2019 would inevitably be higher owing partly to a full year of BioOne charges and anticipated publishing costs. The purchase of £100,000 investment units is expected to produce a higher income than current deposit rates. In answer to a question he explained that the Charity Commission did not require the Club's accounts to be formally examined (as the Club's turnover was less than £25,000 p.a.): however, prior to publication and subsequent submission to the Commission the accounts had been independently scrutinised by a fellow Trustee, Tony Statham.
Dr Robert Prŷs-Jones outlined the 2018 talks programme and the rewarding joint conference with the Society for the History of Natural History held in the World Museum, Liverpool. He reported that the year had been very successful with increasing numbers attending the talks at the Barley Mow, augmented by those who watched the talks on YouTube.
In his concluding remarks the Chairman drew attention to the Hon. Editor Guy Kirwan's report on the Bulletin and in particular to the welcome increase in received manuscripts which he suggested might be owing to ‘the extra visibility the Bulletin potentially enjoys in its new online home at BioOne’.
Finally Chris Storey noted that the process that began in 2016 was at the end of 2018 coming to fruition: the Club had had its first year of trading as an open-access online journal and the BOC CIO was fully established. However as the Report indicates the Trustees are very much aware of the new territory in which the Club exists. It is a very long way from its beginnings as a gentlemen's dining club. BOC operates in a very crowded market place and it is essential that the Club's activities are distinct, valuable and consistent with its charitable objectives. He said that the Hon. Editor's positive report as to the rise in potential authors plus the increasing numbers attending the Barley Mow talks programme and our joint conferences suggested that the Club was making a success of the transition. But it is a very uncertain world and, encouraged by Douglas Russell, the Trustees are looking at what the BOC's vision, mission and inclusivity statements might be. Is the BOC an exclusive, closed Club or an open inclusive society, active on the web and in its regular meetings with an engaged, broad-based and committed following? Chris ended by stating that the views of all would be very welcome.
Abe, N. 2019. ‘Cherry’ Ingram: the man who saved Japan's blossoms. Chatto & Windus, London. 380 pp, colour and black-and-white photographs. ISBN: 978-1-78474202-7. Hardback, £18.99.
This may at first sight not seem an obvious title for review in the Bulletin, being predominantly focused on the conservation of species and varieties of cherries Prunus spp. However, the main protagonist, Collingwood Ingram (1880–1981), was not only also passionately interested in birds, but undoubtedly the longest-serving member of the British Ornithologist's Club. He joined in 1901, in which year he published his first short note in the Bulletin (Ingram 1901), and remained a member until his death on 19 May 1981, having submitted his last short Bulletin paper, a lament for the decline of English songbirds, in March (Ingram 1981). The then Hon. Secretary of the Club, R. E. F. Peal, wrote his obituary in the Ibis (124: 214, 1982).
An independently wealthy man, who never needed to earn a living and travelled widely, notably to Japan in 1902, 1907 and 1926, his early years were dominated by his interest in and study of birds. However, this all began to change around 1919, when he acquired The Grange, in Benenden, Kent, the large house set in extensive land that would be home for him and his wife for the rest of their long lives. In conjunction with a feeling of disillusionment with ornithology, which he decided had become ‘a somewhat tired and exhausted science’, this triggered a switch of focus to plants, and in particular the acquisition of the horticultural knowledge necessary to create a major new garden. Central to this was his fascination with two mature Japanese cherry trees, a rarity in Britain at the time, which were already growing next to his house. As Naoko Abe, a Japanese writer who has lived in Britain for more than 15 years, observes: ‘Within months Ingram's goals began to crystallise: to collect as many cherry-tree varieties for his garden as he could find, and to become a globally recognised cherry-blossom expert’.
In outlining how Ingram succeeded in this beyond all reasonable expectation, Abe interweaves a fascinating and wide-ranging analysis, embedding Ingram's growing cherry obsession into a framework of recent Japanese history and the deleterious impact that the increasing militant conformity of its society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries had on the diversity of cherry cultivation there. This explains the book's title, as it was Ingram's desire for maximum diversity that resulted in him saving key cherry varieties that were disappearing in Japan itself, where planting became concentrated on a single beautiful but uniform form, Somei-yoshino.
Despite his focus on the breeding of garden plant varieties during the middle years of his life, including the publication of his great work Ornamental cherries in 1948, Ingram never lost his interest in birds. This again came increasingly to the fore during his later years, when he produced highly personal books focused on observations of living birds, such as In search of birds (1966), The migration of the Swallow (1974) and, at age 98, Random thoughts on bird life (1978). Earlier in his life he had, however, combined observation with collecting, producing important works from studies in, for example, Japan and France, and depositing many specimens in the Natural History Museum (NHMUK) collections. To take a single example, it was he who collected on the island of Ushant, Brittany, the first Gray's Grasshopper Warbler Locustella fasciolata specimen from Europe (Ingram 1929). Only a single other genuine specimen has been recorded subsequently, in Denmark, although Richard Meinertzhagen perpetrated one of his more egregious frauds with another specimen he claimed also to have collected on Ushant (Kennerley & Prŷs-Jones 2006).
Although there is limited suggestion of this in the work under review, it would seem that Ingram may not always have been the easiest of people to interact with. Thus a retired NHMUK Bird Group curator who was on the staff when he used to visit the collections remarked to me that he was a most disagreeable person to assist because of his sense of entitlement, and a reviewer of his book Isles of the Seven Seas (1936) noted that ‘… generally the author does not feel for the natives of these islands the sympathy that he displays for their birds and plants’ (Geogr. J. 89: 87, 1937). Nevertheless, he lived a diverse and involving life extending well beyond his ornithological discoveries, and Abe's book performs a valuable and highly readable service in bringing the wider man into gaze.
Martin Wedgwood Woodcock, 14 January 1935–24 February 2019
For many people, Martin Woodcock, who died on 24 February aged 84, will be remembered as a consummate bird artist, an avid birder, a prominent member of the BOC and the African Bird Club—but first and foremost as a gentleman (in both senses of the word)—a vibrant, convivial conversationalist and wonderfully warm and supportive friend who lived his life to the brim. No one who shared his company could ever forget that wicked twinkle in his eyes as his wife, Barbara, served yet more delicious food while Martin set up his next anecdote with another round of good wine or scotch.
Barbara, who survives him, formed a constant part of the ‘Woodcock experience’. Unfailingly cheerful and welcoming, she supported his every eccentricity, holding him to account when the conversation became too boisterous, accompanying him on their many birding trips overseas, notably to Africa and South-East Asia, and adding her own successful framing business to the passions of the Woodcock household. A weekend chez Woodcocks was a pleasure never to be declined.
Born on 14 January 1935 in Sidcup Kent, Martin painted and drew from childhood and even sent a drawing of a Great Snipe Gallinago media to Peter Scott in 1947, of which the recipient was most appreciative in a letter with a ‘nice drawing of a Whitefront’ on it. He was entirely self-taught. His first sight, at age eight while at Ashdown House Prep School, East Sussex, of Coward's Birds of the British Isles and their eggs, and later trips to Blakeney and Cley as a 16-year-old set the mould for the future. His prep school doctor and local G.P. encouraged his love of nature, and he explored Ashdown Forest and its birds by bicycle as Battle of Britain Spitfires chased Messerschmitts in the skies above.
He went to Christ's Hospital School, Horsham, West Sussex, at age ten and spent eight years there before failing to take up an offer to read history at Magdelene College for lack of sufficient maths. Instead, Martin did National Service in the Royal Artillery and was grateful for the long periods of leave which afforded plenty of time for birding at Cley. There he mingled with the great birders and ornithologists of the day, including R. A. Richardson, who gave him useful advice on his art and illustration, as did Chloe Talbot-Kelly in later years.
On leaving the army in 1955, Martin followed his father into stockbroking and worked for some dreary years (his own description!) in the City, grabbing as many UK and European birding holidays as possible. A significant high point was an extended trip in 1961–62 to visit his only sister, Nan, who was then working in Uganda. Stories from this trip form the first chapter in his delightful self-illustrated memoir Safari sketchbook: a bird painters' African Odyssey (2010).
As a member of the BOC from 1961, he met many leading ornithologists and was invited to illustrate Ben King and Edward Dickinson's Field guide to the birds of South-East Asia, published by Collins. In 1973, Collins invited him to write about and illustrate birds full time, thereby offering a welcome escape from his increasingly unloved job in stockbroking.
Several other Collins projects were duly commissioned but abandoned due to the exigencies of the market, but his work there included the extremely successful Collins Gem Guide: Birds. His self-authored and illustrated Handguide to the birds of the Indian Sub-Continent was followed by illustrations for Quartet's Birds of Oman by Michael Gallagher, which led to a meeting with Leslie Brown, then planning the monumental Birds of Africa to be published by Academic Press, originally envisaged at four volumes. When work began on Vol. 2, of a series that eventually grew to seven volumes covering mainland Africa, Leslie Brown had died to be replaced by an editorial team consisting of Emil K. Urban, Stuart Keith and C. Hilary Fry. Moreover, Martin's two co-illustrators of Vol. 1 had moved on, and Martin found himself the sole artist for some 5,000 illustrations of more than 2,000 species of African birds in all their plumages—a truly formidable task and the work for which he is probably best known.
I joined Academic Press in 1982 and worked with Martin as the publishing editor for the project. It was some 22 years later before the sixth volume was published, and there were numerous difficult times as the editor / author team worked to complete the manuscripts and the project progressed though many changes of management at the publishers. Throughout, Martin was the perfect collaborator; not only were his illustrations superb and continually improving, but they arrived in plenty of time to feed the publication schedule. Not the least of his contributions was his unfailing good humour in the face of deadlines and constant project reorganisation. If he became concerned, it was because there was a problem to solve, and when he had helped resolve it we celebrated together. He provided an outstanding dose of wit and sanity in a sometimes crazy world.
I especially recall Martin's delight at cracking the Congo Peacock Afropavo congensis problem. The species is scarce and difficult to find in the wild, so Martin's many field trips to observe African birds first-hand had never brought him face to face with one. Where to find a living bird to flesh out his research on its appearance and improve his illustration? Just in time for press, he managed to locate a specimen kept by an enthusiastic pheasant collector only a short drive away. Martin wasted no time in making a personal visit to bring life to his first illustration and repainted the entire plate with a better version!
Martin was Hon. Secretary of the BOC from April 1965 to April 1969, and continued a close connection with the club subsequently, giving evening talks on the Birds of Thailand and Malaya (1967), Oman (1978) and Three African forests (1994), as well as speaking on the Indian avifauna at a symposium on Asian birds (1977). He published two short papers in the Bulletin in 2003, on Systematics and confusion in the genus Parmoptila (Bull. Brit. Orn. Cl. 123: 274–277) and Some reflections on the use of skins in bird illustration (Bull. Brit. Orn. Cl. 123A: 249–252). He was also a member of the Society of Wildlife Artists for over 25 years and a co-founder of the African Bird Club in 1993. As the latter's first Chair, and later President, he did much to establish it as an influential force for the understanding and conservation of Africa's birds.
His first marriage to Heidi Schön brought three children, and he acquired and brought up two stepchildren when he later married Barbara Skailes in in 1972. This strong and loving extended family has since grown to include 14 grandchildren.
But perhaps Martin's greatest achievement was also his last. Following diagnosis of an aggressive terminal cancer, the energy with which he embraced life, reached out to his friends and continued to socialise and enjoy his time to the fullest, remains a lesson to us all. Nothing stood in the way of his unfailing humour, his bonhomie, and his sonorous readings from his delightful book of self-penned poetry, Drawing together.
See also BOC website: http://www.boc-online.org
BOC MEETINGS are open to all, not just BOC members, and are free.
Evening meetings are in an upstairs room at The Barley Mow, 104 Horseferry Road, Westminster, London SW1P 2EE. The nearest Tube stations are Victoria and St James's Park; and the 507 bus, which runs from Victoria to Waterloo, stops nearby. For maps, see http://www.markettaverns.co.uk/the_barley_mow.html or ask the Chairman for directions.
The cash bar opens at 6.00 pm and those who wish to eat after the meeting can place an order. Talks start at 6.30 pm and, with questions, last c.1 hour.
Monday 16 September 2019—6.30 pm—Pat Morris—The Hastings Rarities: taking the long view.
Abstract.—It is now more than 50 years since hundreds of bird records were dismissed as potentially fraudulent on the grounds that it was unlikely that so many rare species would turn up within a short period of time and a limited area around Hastings. Statistical analysis confirmed a significant difference between the numbers of records in that area and time compared to other areas of Kent / Sussex and with later periods. In ornithological terms it makes limited difference, as most of the suspect species have been found subsequently in that area. It has long been widely accepted that fraud occurred and that a local taxidermist, George Bristow, was responsible for perpetrating this. Bristow was unable to defend himself, having died, and the taxidermy profession was besmirched. Although protests were made at the time the issue appears closed. However, worrying doubts remain when the evidence is examined closely. Equally, in retrospect there may be further evidence to confirm Bristow's guilt. A colleague, Philip Redman, has also been studying details of the Hastings affair, and may hopefully be able to join us from Paris.
Biography.—Dr Pat Morris was Senior Lecturer in Zoology at Royal Holloway, Univ. of London, and well known for his studies of mammal ecology. He is a past Chairman of the Mammal Society, a former Council Member of the National Trust, and has published >70 scientific papers and c.20 books. A consultant to several major publishers and the BBC Natural History Unit, in his spare time he has pursued a long-standing interest in the history of taxidermy and was appointed the first Hon. Life Member of the Guild of Taxidermists. He was awarded the Founder's Medal by the Society for the History of Natural History and made MBE in the 2015 Honours List ‘for services to the natural and historic environment’.
Saturday 26 October 2019—One-day joint meeting with the Neotropical Bird Club and Natural History Museum in the Flett Theatre, Natural History Museum (NHM), London SW7 5BD. The nearest tube station is South Kensington and attendees should use the NHM entrance on Exhibition Road. There is no charge to attend, no need to book and all are welcome. The programme is provisionally planned to include the following talks, but a full final programme, including additional talk and speaker details, should be posted at http://www.boc-online.org by about late June.
Avoiding extinctions in the most threatened area in the Neotropics: the Pernambuco Centre of Endemism—Luís Fábio Silveira (University of São Paulo, Brazil)
Diversity in avian mimicry—Alexander Lees (Manchester Metropolitan University)
Frontiers of knowledge: a quarter-century of Neotropical discovery—Joseph Tobias (Imperial College London)
The physiology / behaviour nexus in a Central American cloud forest songbird, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush Catharus mexicanus—Samuel Jones (Royal Holloway London)
Using science to protect Ecuador's most threatened birds—Martin Schaefer (Fundación Jocotoco)
Conservation of dry forest endemic birds in north-west Peru—Christian Devenish (Manchester Metropolitan University)
Access to NHM is possible from 10.00 h, when coffee / tea will be available adjacent to the Flett Theatre. The meeting will begin at or shortly after 10.30 h, with a break for lunch around 12.30 h; many food outlets are available both within NHM and nearby in South Kensington. The conference will end by 17.00 h and NHM closes at 18.00 h. For up-to-date details, please check the BOC website: http://www.boc-online.org.
Monday 18 November 2019—6.30 pm—Tim Birkhead—The wonderful Mr Willughby: the start of scientific ornithology.
Abstract.—The first scientific bird book was The ornithology of Francis Willughby, named in Willughby's honour by his friend John Ray after Willughby's death at the age of just 36 in 1672. These two men were pioneers of the scientific revolution and changed the way we think about birds. Until recently it was widely assumed that Ray was the brains and Willughby a mere ‘talented amateur’, but after a decade of research I have been able to show that Willughby was every bit as brilliant as his co-author and friend John Ray. In this talk I will tell the story of Willughby's short but spectacularly productive life—a story every ornithologist should know.
Biography.—Tim Birkhead is emeritus professor of behavioural ecology at the Univ. of Sheffield. He completed a D.Phil. at Oxford on guillemots (Alcidae) in 1976, before taking a lectureship at Sheffield where he has been ever since. Tim is a Fellow of the Royal Society—the UK's most prestigious scientific body. His main research is on promiscuity in birds, but he is also interested in the history of science. He has maintained a long-term study of Common Guillemots Uria aalge on Skomer Island, Wales, for the last 47 years and raised UK£150,000 through crowd funding to keep the study going. Tim has won several awards for his undergraduate teaching. He is also an award-winning author and has written 15 books, including several popular science works. He has featured on BBC Radio 4's Life Scientific, The Infinite Monkey Cage and Inside Science, and his book The most perfect thing: the inside (and outside) of a bird's egg was made into a TV programme with David Attenborough, who referred to the book as ‘Magnificent’.
The BOC has from 2017 become an online organisation without a paying membership, but instead one that aspires to a supportive network of Friends who share its vision of ornithology—see: http://boc-online.org/. Anyone wishing to become a Friend of the BOC and support its development should pay UK£25.00 by standing order or online payment to the BOC bank account:
Barclays Bank, 16 High Street, Holt, NR25 6BQ, Norfolk
Sort Code: 20-45-45
Account number: 53092003
Account name: The British Ornithologists' Club
Friends receive regular updates about Club events and are also eligible for discounts on the Club's Occasional Publications. It would assist our Treasurer, Richard Malin (e-mail: email@example.com), if you would kindly inform him if you intend becoming a Friend of the BOC.
From volume 137 (2017), the Bulletin of the BOC has become an online journal, published quarterly, that is available to all readers without charge. Furthermore, it does not levy any publication charges (including for colour plates) on authors of papers and has a median publication time from receipt to publication of six months. Prospective authors are invited to contact the Bulletin editor, Guy Kirwan (GMKirwan@aol.com), to discuss future submissions or look at http://boc-online.org/bulletin/bulletin-contributions. Back numbers up to volume 136 (2016) are available via the Biodiversity Heritage Library website: www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/46639#/summary; vols. 132–136 are also available on the BOC website: http://boc-online.org/
BOC Occasional Publications are available from the BOC Office or online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Future BOC-published checklists will be available from NHBS and as advised on the BOC website. As its online repository, the BOC uses the British Library Online Archive (in accordance with IZCN 1999, Art. 188.8.131.52).