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Undescribed bird in Madagascar? (1 Viewer)

Jens Thalund

Well-known member
On a recent trip to Madagascar I brought the Bradt Travel Guide to Madagascar with me, and stumbled on an interesting bit, written by a Toby Nowlan from BBC Natural History Unit (page 315).

He writes about Makira Forest, north of the more wellknown Masoala Peninsula, where he captured images of a bird on his camera traps several times, that he didn't recognize. It didn't even resemble any known bird in the country!

I haven't heard of any new bird to science from Madagascar, despite the fact that he writes, that he sent photos and notes to the country's (UK?) leading ornithologists upon his return.

Has anyone got more on this bird?


Hi reibwo,

it would be interesting merely to find out what family we're discussing here. I was very intrigued by his statement that "it didn't resemble any known bird in the country"!
it's not about Dusky Tetraka, isn't it?

I lately found out that Dusky Tetraka is not a Berniera / Greenbul at all, but more linked to Madagascar Yellowbrow!
I wondered too, temmie. We heard a couple of years ago that DT was being seen in forest somewhere north of Maroantsetra. Not really new to science though so could it be something else...? Would love to know either way.
Dusky Greenbul / Tetraka is not new to science, but it hasn't been properly drawn in any of the field guides! The drawings all show a Spectacled Tetraka. I think the best drawing of Dusky Tetraka was in the photo guide of Morris? It should be a ground dwelling bird with thick, high legs, and totally different in behavior than the warbler-like Spectacled Tetraka.

So it wouldn't surprise me if someone captured footage of Dusky Tetraka, and thinks it's something completely unknown.
Reviving a bit of an old thread here, apologies, but seemed a good place to put this - are there any photos or newer artwork of Dusky Tetraka in the past couple years? I'm not aware of any but I do not know that part of the world well nor follow it closely.
newer artwork of Dusky Tetraka

... are there any photos or newer artwork of Dusky Tetraka in the past couple years? I'm not aware of any but I do not know that part of the world well nor follow it closely.

This refers to the earlier quote: "Dusky Greenbul / Tetraka... hasn't been properly drawn in any of the field guides! The drawings all show a Spectacled Tetraka... It should be a ground dwelling bird with thick, high legs, and totally different in behavior than the warbler-like Spectacled Tetraka."

I believe the Hawkins, Safford & Skerrett guide, which came out that same year, corrects that. In their description, they note the "relatively longer and stronger legs, posture upright", and the illustration (by John Gale or Brian Small, they don't give specific credit!) shows it on the ground. Early in the book they acknowledge "evidence for sister relationship between Yellowbrow and rare Dusky Tetraka suggests genera should be reconsidered", which also suggests they were aware of the new thoughts on this species.
Thanks for the input! I had not understood that to imply that the current guide (Hawkins, Safford & Skerrett) had correct art, and the art for the two species is very similar, despite the differences that are mentioned.

Are there any photos of specimens around? Anyone know of any recordings? There is a vocal description in the guide, but that's all I have found.
Pete Morris might be able to shed some light - he's often on BF so you could try sending him a PM.
Whatever is worth, on a recent tour, a local guide Julien was able to point us Dusky Tetraka at Matandia, and was able to point differences, including less spectacles and different underbody coloration from juvenile Spectacled Tetrakas (which were freshly fledging in Matandia then and are common species well known to guides). We observed 2-3 birds in low undergrowth, although were not able to see actual adult feeding young which would absolutely prove that Dusky Tetrakas are not juveniles.

The same guide could also describe us song of Collared Nightjar, which in the Hawkins et al. book is said to be still unknown. He said it was long churring, very quiet and can heard only at few meters away, and said it resembles call of a local frog Scaphiophryne marmorata.
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Jurek, we also were in Mantadia with Julien in November, and saw the birds he calls Dusky Tetrakas. A photo attached. There are two opinions; I cannot say which is correct:

Julien, and all the very-experienced Malagasy guides that we met, believe that in that area there are both Spectacled and Dusky Tetrakas. As you wrote, the latter birds are darker and may have a slightly different call. They supposedly spend more time on the ground, and indeed we did see them on the ground, but more often perched in bushes, including the one I photographed.

The guides from international companies, and supposedly ornithologists also, believe that is a mistake, just variation within the Spectacleds, and that Dusky is much less common and only found further north.

I will note that I believe the illustration of Dusky in Sinclair & Langrand is incorrect, it actually shows a Spectacled! (And the local guides I was with had that book, or an older one.) Hawkins et. al. show something that sounds like the current descriptions of Dusky, with a different posture and standing on the ground. Their illustration of a juvenile is far, far darker than anything we saw in Madagascar. One of our companions is looking into this further, including trying to get recordings of the begging calls of young birds

By the way, in response to Temmie's comment from 2015, ALL of the tetrakas were formerly called Greenbuls, but are now placed in Bernieridae, with Yellowbrow, oxylabes, etc., based on analysis of DNA, etc. There appears to be no argument about that.


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Hi Tapaculo (did we see each other in real life?)

I don't pretend to be knowledgeable in Madagascar birds, either. However the birds we saw were darker than your photo and darker than juvenile Spectacled which we observed before. They moved on ground and low above, like Appert's Tetrakas from Zombitse. There was no Spectacled Tetrakas or other birds in vicinity. We used Hawkins et al. book and Julien the guide had it too.

However, the information on this forum is rather like Russian disinformation. It is somewhat unverifiable statement that all Dusky Tetrakas illustrated or observed are juvenile Spectacled and nobody seen a real Dusky Tetraka. One might, with difficulty, follow the birds until one starts to feed young or sing.

If somebody wants to go further, one needs an undisputed illustration of Dusky Tetraka and its identification. Some BirdForum members work at museum and surely, somebody can snap few photos of Dusky Tetraka specimens next to Spectacled Tetraka ones, please?
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Tapaculo, without trying to weigh in on identification (I don't claim to be an expert but plan to look at this bird more as I am also very interested in this puzzle), I would comment that your photo is of a clearly juvenile bird. Did you see adults with it?

I will freely admit that I am in the camp that reports of Dusky Tetraka that don't have verifiable photos should be regarded as suspect. So little is known about the bird, it could be that it is more common and gets missed. However it could also be that it is correct that it only occurs up to 1000m (which I presume is derived from specimen record).

I too would be keen to see photos of museum specimens!
For whatever reason, I didn't see that you had all responded to my question above. Apologies for the delay.

I was on the trip with "tapaculo" this November when Julien pointed out what he called a flock of Dusky Tetraka. I'm skeptical about this ID, but trying to learn more. While in the presence of the birds, I focused on getting sound recordings while “tapaculo” and the others focused on gathering photo evidence. Here are some of my observations and thinking-out-loud ID process. Feedback welcome.

pro Spectacled Tetraka evidence (visual): From the first glance, they seemed too elongated along the bill-to-tail axis to match the illustration in the Hawkins field guide. The posture of the bird was also more horizontal than upright, as is indicated for Dusky. Also birds in the flock that were begging (presumably juveniles) appeared to have Dusky/Spectacled adult plumage, not the dark brown juvenile illustrated in the field guide. These presumed juveniles also had lighter colored spectacles (as in Tapaculo’s posted pic) while the guide illustrates no such facial markings.

neutral evidence (visual): My best looks at the birds were when they were on vegetation a little ways above the ground. However it seemed that these birds were also on the ground itself. I’m not sure that I can say that they spent more time one place than the other because the thick undergrowth seemingly biased my looks at them to when they were higher above the ground.

contra Spectalcted Tetraka evidence (visual): When do juvenile Dusky Tetrakas assume adult-like plumage? I don’t know if this outlandish or not, but could the adults still be feeding young birds for a short while after the young ones take on the plumage of adults?

Audio evidence (I’m still working on this one): The sound of the birds is what first alerted Julien to their presence and identity as Dusky Tetrakas. I did get some serviceable audio recordings. These recordings are slanted towards the sounds of the presumed juveniles rather than the presumed adults. I’ve been searching for audio references without great success. Spectacled Tetraka recordings are available on the internet (20 at xeno-canto.org and 1 on MSU’s avocet project). The only Dusky Tetraka recording I could find online is a single record on the avocet website (http://www.avocet.zoology.msu.edu/recordings/593). The poster of this audio recording notes that it sounds different from the Dusky Tetraka track on the Bird Sounds of Madagascar cd, but also notes that they couldn’t find anything else on that CD that corresponds to the posted recording. The Bird Sounds of Madagascar is not available for purchase anywhere that I can find. I’m from the USA, and as far as I can tell, only a few institutions in this country have the CD. The ones that I’ve encountered don’t lend out the CD, but instead require the potential CD user to listen to the CD on-site. (Unfortunately one such institution is a short bus ride away from me, yet after much searching, they admitted that the CD is lost and that they can only find the booklet that came with it.) The other, older cd of Madagascar bird recordings that I’ve seen mentioned online does not contain the Dusky Tetraka (and I haven’t been able to find a copy of it either). In conclusion, my study and expertise in interpreting audio files is not sufficient for me to make a conclusion at this time, but I have not yet given up hope.

My next steps: Email New York University and ask if it might be possible to get a track or two from their copy of the Bird Sounds of Madagascar CD without traveling to their library’s listening room. Send a similar email to the British Library, the producers of this CD.

Questions: Does anyone know how to obtain a copy of the camera trap photo mentioned in the original post? Does anyone know of a museum or other collection in possession of a Dusky Tetraka skin?
One other question: What is known about variation in subspecies/races/morphs of Dusky and Spectacled Tetraka? The Hawkins field guide illustrates two of the four subspecies of Spectacled.
The plate of Dusky Tetraka in Morris & Hawkins was painted by Mark Andrews, who posts here as Rockfowl. Maybe he can chime in here with some information on what material he based his illustration?

The claimed recording of Dusky Tetraka on avocet was made by Pamela Rasmussen, who is a prominent American museum taxonomist, so surely must be able to locate and get access to any skins in museum collections - or at least point you in the right direction?
Unfortunately my message to "Rockfowl" did not go through because it said that his mailbox was full and not accepting new messages.
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