“It is good to have hair-splitters and lumpers” wrote Charles Darwin to this friend and famed botanist, Joseph Hooker. He continued, “Those who make many species are the ‘splitters’ and those who make few are the ‘lumpers’.”
We can only wonder if he would feel the same way now, for today the lumpers have all but vanished and we live firmly amid an era of splitters. Mostly this is a reflection of our improved understanding of evolution and avian taxonomy, but keeping up with the almost light-speed changes in the world list of birds is pretty bewildering. As we hold our breath on Red Crossbills in the United States, and whatever changes may befall Darwin’s own Galapagos finches, an example clarified more recently is the bird we once knew as the Red-bellied Pitta.
Long known as a widespread species of lowland or foothill forest across the Philippines, Indonesia, and into Melanesia, in 2016 scientists recognized the Red-bellied Pitta as no less than 10 species. (Some authorities might add yet 7 more!). Those of us who have seen a few of these, whether the more widespread Philippine, Sulawesi, or Papuan Pittas, or the range-restricted and remote Louisiade Pitta, delighted in a fresh burst of “armchair ticking”. No longer relegated to nefarious “escrow birds”, these birds now enjoy the elevated status of species and can thus be counted. And species status is helpful too when in conservation work with more at-risk populations, such as the Siau and Sangihe Pittas, which may number fewer than 200 individuals.
On the whole, while a 10-way split may seem dizzying at first, it makes sense when you consider the isolated populations, the genetics, and how they differ in appearance by region. You can see a map and a breakdown of the various taxa if you check out this paper here. And if you have never been to this region or are looking for a return trip, a stupendous bunch of birds awaits, not to mention … a dragon.
The Sulawesi Pitta and the North Molucca Pitta are both found on Rockjumper’s Sulawesi & Halmahera – Wallacean Endemics, but so too are another 100 range-restricted stunners such as the odd Maleo, the sought-after Standardwing, and the unique Hylocitrea. Tack on the Bali Birding extension and you may see the gorgeous, critically endangered Bali Myna. After Bali you link up with Rockjumper’s Lesser Sundas Endemics trip to seek out Komodo Dragons, and the Sumba Hornbill, Great-billed Parrot, Pale-shouldered Cicadabird and the little-known Sumba Buttonquail.
Our Highlights of East: Sulawesi, the Moluccas & Papua trip features chances for the Sulawesi Pitta and the Papuan Pitta, and also the rare Geomalia, the showy Purple-bearded Bee-eater, Fiery-browed Starling, Satanic Nightjar, and still much more. Combine ‘The East’ with our Highlights of the West: Greater Sundas and Dragons, and you can gawk at Komodo Dragons, and allow Cerulean Kingfishers and Javan Banded Pittas to set your eyes ablaze.
Rockjumper’s Indonesia offerings take you to this remarkable chain (with 17,508 islands) that boasts over 1,600 bird species and nearly 400 endemics – more than any other nation in the world! Join Rockjumper for an Indonesian adventure today.