Happy Birthday, Colonel Drummond-Hay

Now there’s a name you don’t hear much nowadays. Henry Maurice Drummond, later Drummond-Hay, was born 200 years ago today, and would go on to be a founder and first president of the British Ornithologists’ Union.

Eulogized as “a noble specimen of the true field-naturalists, as well as of the soldier and country gentleman, a keen observer of nature in every department,” Drummond-Hay was an enthusiastic collector. His “almost complete” series of mounted Mediterranean birds is still on display in Megginch Castle. The ornithological collections of the Perth Museum also owe much of their richness to his efforts; among the cimelia there is the skin of the first British record of the American golden-plover.

Drummond-Hay’s most lasting claim to birderly fame rests on a sighting made on his return from Nova Scotia to Europe in December 1852:

 On the edge of the Newfoundland banks he watched for some time a Great Auk which was within 30 or 40 yards of the steamer; and as he had his field-glasses, and could distinctly note the bill and white ear-patches, he felt that he could not be mistaken. He heard also from a friend in Newfoundland that in the following year [1853] a dead Great Auk had been washed ashore in Trinity Bay.

This record was apparently deemed credible by Alfred Newton, but nearly all of the more recent literature cites two specimens taken in 1844 as the “official” end of the auk. I’d like to think that Drummond-Hay actually saw the bird — at least we can let him have it on his birthday, can’t we?