A new flycatcher from Sulawesi (Indonesia)

by Teus Luijendijk

In July/August 1997, Rob Bouwman, Chris Quispel and I made a birding trip through Sulawesi and Halmahera (E Indonesia). From 22 to 25 July we were in Dumoga-Bone NP, at the BP Wallacea HQ at Toraut. On our first day in the park, we came across a feeding flock high in a tree, in which we spotted a flycatcher, unfamiliar to either of us.

We made the following description:

Present in a small feeding flock, high up (approx. 25-30 m) in a tall, rather separate tree. Frequently made short sallies to catch flying insects.
Smallish flycatcher (approx. 12-13 cm overall size). Overall dull brown-grey upperparts, slightly darker on wings and shoulders. Head very dull greyish, "plain-faced" without obvious eyering or marked lores. Underparts all off-white with obvious (though not very contrasting) streaks on the breast. Streaks seemed to have the shape of elongated rectangles (thus somewhat between "streaks' and "spots").
Overall structure rather compact, not elongated. I myself have never had the possibility to observe Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta, but this most likely candidate to be confused with this "Sulawesi Flycatcher" apparently has rather long wings, resulting in a very elongated "jizz". Although never having seen Grey-streaked, I know from observations of e.g., Dark-sided Flycatcher M. sibirica that this difference in shape can be very distinctive.
Wings therefore probably rather short, although this character was not confirmed in the field as such.
Eye appeared large and beady, bill dark (but the distance may have been too large for 100% certainty about the latter).

We were really puzzled by this bird. So, back in the restaurant, after a good lunch, we further discussed all the possibilities. We assumed that somewhere we had made a mistake. As we were rookies regarding the Sulawesi avifauna, we thought we really had overlooked something simple. However, all this didn't get us any closer to a solution. In the mean time, another group of birders had entered the restaurant, but we didn't really notice, busy as we were with our discussion. Apparently, even in our dutch, increasingly confused, conversation, it became clear to the new visitors what the subject of discussion was, for suddenly one of them bent over towards us and said: "It's a new species!"

(3 seconds of silence passed, with us speechless in total astonishment)

"Pardon?!??" was the only thing I could say. And then this man, who identified himself as Ben King (THE Ben King, yes!) explained they had seen similar birds, only a few days before, at Lore-Lindu NP in Central Sulawesi. As they had seen it there somewhat better than we had, and since Dr. King was of course much more familiar with the birds of Sulawesi, they had come to the conclusion that it actually was some as yet undescribed species.
An article to draw attention to this bird was later published in the OBC journal Forktail (No. 15, 1999, p.104).

Indeed, this flycatcher was then seen by more groups visiting Sulawesi. In 1999, a Birdquest team even managed to collect some photographic evidence of this new species. Here are 2 pictures shown:




'Sulawesi Flycatcher' Muscicapa (?) species   Sulawesi, September 1999 (videograb ©Pete Morris/Birdquest)


See also for a report of this successful Birdquest trip: www.alanwilkinson.com/birding/sulawesi/index.html


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