29 Aug 2012

The illicit joy of an “Armchair Tick” ! – Cyanoptila cumatilis

On 18th October 2008, together with a score of other birders and photographers I spent a Sunday afternoon at Po Toi Island, south of Hong Kong Island.  And I did a blog post about it here: -

Later I posted the Blue-and-white flycatcher photo on the HKBWS website here :-

As can be seen, on the forum Paul Leader pointed out that the bluish breast was indicative of the cumatilis race of Blue-and-white flycatcher, Cyanoptila cyanomelana

Actually, the cumatilis race of Blue-and-white Flycatcher is illustrated in the eighth edition (2005) of  “The BIRDS of HONG KONG and SOUTH CHINA” .

But I freely confess I hadn’t thought of “cumatilis” when I posted the photo originally.  As a grammar school boy with hardly any latin, I had to look up “cumatilis” in James Joblings’ “Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names” to find that it means “sea-coloured.”  

Sea coloured it is.

Rolling the clock forward to 2012, and a paper published in the Oriental Bird Club’s Forktail 28 by Paul Leader and Geoff Carey highlights the differences between the various forms of Blue-and-white Flycatcher.  The paper is titled:

Zappey’s Flycatcher Cyanoptila cumatilis,             -  a forgotten Chinese breeding endemic

Paul and Geoff’s research has taken several years and has gone all the way from the Russian Far East, through China’s eastern provinces, to museum collections in Europe.

The type specimen was taken by the Dutch ornithologist Walter R. Zappey in May, 1907 at Mafuling, nw Hubei Province. So, the name proposed by Geoff and Paul in English is “Zappey’s Flycatcher”. 

As pointed out in “Whose Bird?” by Bo Beolens and Michael Watkins, Zappey’s name is already commemorated by Paradoxornis zappeyi – Grey-hooded Parrotbill.

A fine bird. And now we can thank Walter Zappey – and Messrs Leader and Carey – for Cyanoptila cumatilis – Zappey’s Flycatcher.

This year's edition (No. 28) of Forktail won't be online for a couple of years, so this is a reminder that if you're not already a paid-up ember of the Oriental Bird Club, you should be ! 


  1. Splitters and lumpers of the world unite. Good tick, John

    1. Thanks, Andrew. Not originally found by me, I have to say, but after four years (now that people are looking out for them) it remains Hong Kong's only record of this taxon. Those of us who saw it on Po Toi that day can count ourselves lucky.

  2. Wow that's some really interesting information, John.
    I've seen both cumatilis and cyanomelana, so one more added!
    Love how the word "cumatilis" means sea-coloured, really fits well to the appearance.

  3. Ayuwat, glad you've seen both of them already !