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John Gilbert diary entry

1 May 1845 - 2 May 1845

Page 84. Volume 2

[in left margin]


Halcyon pyrrho.

New Poephila

only in small pools, like the Burdikin having a gravelly bed. As we travelled along I observed the Petroica Goodenovii rather abundant, and for the first time had the pleasure of seeing the Halcyon pyrrhopygia571. which I obtained, while employed skinning my specimens at the camp Murphy went out with my Gun, and was fortunate enough to kill a new Finch most probably a Poephila572 and certainly one of the most beautiful additions to the Australian Fringillidae which has been made for several years past. the specimen is a female, the Male therefore may be expected to prove a very beautiful species, a Female specimen of a species of Pachycephala was killed to day, which I cannot determine untill I am enabled to procure a male, it has a brownish tinge on the rump which I do not remember to have observed in either P. pectoralis, or P. gutturalis, both of which species I have frequently observed during the whole expedition573.

[in left margin]

Friday 2 May

10 miles



Kangaroo Camp574

To days stage about 10 miles, over a very fine country, very open, and in many places forming small Whinstone plains, the timber away from the river very small, but along the rivers banks and bed still very fine Moreton bay Ash, flooded Gum, Casuarina and Melaleuca; at about 8 miles we crossed a very large tributary as large in fact as the Burdikin, but differing from it in not having a running stream and the absence of Tea tree, it was nearly 200 yards in breadth, in fact the Dr mis=took this for the Burdikin in cutting off an angle he did not observe the junc=tion and commenced following up the tributary in a westerly course, while the Burdikin had turned off to the North; our whole days medium course is very probably about N.N.W. but our Latitude at night will prove to us how much Northing we have really made, at first the river kept in a good Westerly course but for nearly two thirds of the latter part it was very much to the North, and the presence of so many large tributaries coming in on its right bank, would seem to promise us the river will ultimately turn off to the Northward, one part of the Burdikin passed to day is the narrowest we have yet seen, it was not more than fifty yards across, but the stream of water is still run=

Note 571

Two female Red-backed Kingfishers Todiramphus pyrrhopygius now in the collections of National Museums Liverpool (LIV D1623 & D1623b) were collected by Gilbert on 3rd (Burdekin Lakes) and 2nd (Burdekin River) May 1845 respectively. Gilbert records in his diary collecting Red-backed Kingfishers on the 1st and 2nd May; a Red-backed Kingfisher in the Murphy Collection at RAMM Exeter is only labelled “Queensland” but may be the specimen Gilbert collected on the 1st May; he might have swapped Murphy for the finch. The specimen LIV D1623 actually revisited Burdekin Lakes in 1990, this time by coach, when I took five of Gilbert’s original birds on the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland’s “Following in the footsteps of Leichhardt” tour. As the coach got bogged near his property, Alan Atkinson of the Valley of Lagoons got the opportunity to see the bird that had been collected on his land 145 years earlier. He, his daughter Kylie and their staff pulled the coach out of the mud and then guided the entire RGSQ party across a flooded bridge over the Burdekin River.

Note 572

Alec Chisholm thought this “Poephila” might be the northern form of the Black-throated Finch Poephila cincta atropygialis Diggles, 1876 (Birds of the Gilbert diary 1945: 197). However, a pencilled arrow and the word “Gouldiae” have been scrawled over this passage, probably Chisholm (or if by John Gould, then Chisholm must have seen it). Was this “Poephila” a female Gouldian Finch Erythrura gouldiae? If so, it must be the specimen Gould wrote about in his entry for “Poephila mirabilis” (the red-headed form of the Gouldian Finch) in “The birds of Australia” (vol.3, text & plate 89, published in 1847). Here Gould wrote: “Mr Gilbert procured an example of P. Gouldiae during Dr Leichardt’s expedition from Moreton Bay to Port Essington, which dissection proved to be a female, and which although similarly, was much less highly coloured than the bird I have represented” [in his plate for “Poephila gouldiae”, the black-headed form]. Gould could not have included this Leichhardt Expedition specimen in his account of “Poephila gouldiae” (vol.3, plate 88) as this had been published in 1844. If the “Poephila” Gilbert shot on 1st May was indeed a Gouldian Finch, it would be an interesting record for Queensland; most recent records are from the Gregory Range or Georgetown, further west, or Chillagoe, further north (HANZAB 2006 vol. 7b: 1291). However, Gouldian Finches were formerly much more common. As for the actual bird Gilbert shot on 1st May 1845, it is possibly the female Gouldian Finch now in the Gould Collection in the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, which is labelled “Interior of Australia” and is black-headed but not fully in breeding plumage (ANSP 14634).

Note 573

This was probably a female Golden Whistler Pachycephala p. pectoralis. According to HANZAB (2002, vol. 6: 1117) the female of this subspecies has the “mantle, back, scapulars and rump, olive-brown to grey-olive, with concealed dark-grey bases to feathers”. Gilbert would have previously known the Golden Whistler from the subspecies in Western Australia (Pachycephala pectoralis fuliginosa) and Tasmania (Pachycephala pectoralis glaucura); all the subspecies are subtly different. The theory that Gilbert’s “Pachycephala” of 1st May 1845 was a Golden Whistler is strengthened by an adult female bird of this species in National Museums Liverpool (LIV D1640h), which has been labelled by Gilbert as "Port Essington Expedition. Female. May 1845 Burdekin Lakes".

Note 574

McLaren estimated Kangaroo Camp to be at GR 863 167 on the 1: 100,000 Conjuboy map 7860, about three miles north of the junction of Dry River (Gilbert’s “very large tributary”) with the Burdekin. Leichhardt, cutting off bends in the river, had at first mistaken Dry River for the Burdekin. Kangaroo Camp was named after a kangaroo their dog caught that day, which may have been either a Black-striped Wallaby Macropus dorsalis or an Agile Wallaby Macropus agilis. Skulls of both of these kangaroos, collected on the Leichhardt Expedition but with no further data, are in the Natural History Museum in London (BMNH 1846.8.27.1and 1846.8.27.2 respectively). White Kangaroo Camp was their campsite of 5th and 6th December 1844, they were at Comely Creek on the Glenhaughton map. Perhaps these two kangaroo skulls are from the two campsites. In theory, judging from the present distribution of these two species, Macropus dorsalis would have been the species killed on 5th December 1844, Macropus agilis the species killed on 2nd May 1845.