by contributing writer Brendan Sloan
Note: This article was recently published in the latest issue of BirdingASIA
Visayan Shama Kittacincla superciliaris was long considered to be conspecific, essentially the same species, as White Browed Shama Kittacincla luzoniensis which occurs further north in the Philippines mostly on the large island of Luzon. That taxa is split into three sub species with some ranging on satellite islands off the Luzon coast such as Polillo.
Visayan Shamas’ home range is in the central Philippines where it is known from Panay, Negros, and some of the smaller less visited island such as Masbate where forest destruction has been much evident.
Perhaps only with the greater influx of birders in recent years has the notable difference between the birds in the central Philippines and the much better known White Browed Shama of Luzon been appreciated. Critical in these types of breakthroughs are the birders who may observe and get familiar with the species on Luzon and then have the good fortune to bird the central Philippines Islands at some point later. When encountered in the Central Philippines after decent familiarity with the Luzon bird the differences in plumage and song are all too apparent and the need for proper species recognition is gradually taken up.
The bird is known to be shy and wary and spending time in its forest homes even in the midst of known territories may bring about few or no sightings. It’s bueatiful haunting song is likely to be heard but encountering the bird can be very difficult. The song is more reliably heard in the early morning just after dawn and in the periods when the light is dull and fading. However even these patterns are hard to lay down and are unpredictable with some dusks and dawns passing in silence even though the species is known to be present.
Its full song can also be heard unpredictably at any time during the day as a break out melody in the forest but even when close there is often little chance of a viewing. Having spent a number of weeks at the Sibaliw Research Station in the North West Panay Peninsula over a number of visits I had heard the bird many times but had only one really good viewing. Other sightings were only glimpses despite the bird at times being within a matter of feet with more often than not no sighting at all. All views were of the male usually in various stages of song and therefore presenting itself within the possibility for a sighting. The female had never been seen and it seems to be rarely encountered and very little known if at all. It does not seem apparent as a close companion of the male on territory though of course it is present somewhere.
While night birding in the forest around the station on 15th February 2014 myself and the local guide came across a roosting pair. The guide has been an expert in this particular forest for over 20 years and it was only recently that he had come upon a female in the field. At first he believed he had encountered a new species such was the differences in plumage from the male. However gradually over time he had a couple of other encounters and realised that the bird with the pale rufous flanks and the black breast band was in fact the female Visayan Shama. The following pictures were taken on that night and may be the first photographs of the female of the species. It shows how distinctive it is when compared to the female While Browed Shama of Luzon which is well illustrated in Handbook of the Birds of the World and underlines again the merits in treating the bird as a good species in its own right.
There is a possibility that the broad white eye stripes on the male can be partially inflated when the bird is in song or is agitated or excited or that there are some normally concealed white crown feathers. This possible feature was observed once in the field at a distance. However any such characteristic would require proper confirmation through more thorough study.
Jun Tacud has been the main guide at the Station for many years and works tirelessly to find birds for visitors.Many thanks to Dr Eberhard Curio who manages the Station and facilitates visits and has done much to protect the forest via the Eco-Social Conservation Project of Philcon based in nearby Pandan and to Rhea Santillan of Philcon who works hard always to arrange porters and other logistics for visits.
1. “A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines “ Robert S Kennedy et al Oxford University Press 2000.
2. Handbook of the Birds Of the World- http://www.hbw.com
Email the author at Brendansloan@hotmail.com