Other People’s Bird Books: Rogers and Vaurie

I don’t run across these once familiar slips very often anymore — they’ve become so rare that I don’t even remember what they were called.

I suspect that most of those not removed and destroyed in the process of library electronicificationalizing have been snatched by autograph collectors. This Firestone example, though, has survived to tell us a slender bit about one of New Jersey’s best-known birders.

I don’t know why Charles H. Rogers was reading and renewing Vaurie’s Birds of the Palaearctic Fauna. We do know, however, that he was reading with incredible care.

Rogers’s spidery hand appears in two laconic penciled notes on the rear pastedown of Volume I. They read

35 [almost entirely abraded or erased]






The lower note — “Sinkiang, 453, Sikang” — leads us to an apparent error in Vaurie’s description on page 453 of the geographic range of the bearded tit. Where the species account attributes the species to Sinkiang, the gazetteer and map in the volume’s appendix list Sikang. Whether this was a spelling mistake, a typographer’s goof, or a geographical misapprehension on Vaurie’s part, it is remarkable that Charles Rogers should have noticed something so relatively obscure as the mix-up of two contiguous Chinese provinces.


Rogers’s “541” takes us to the account of subspecific variation in the short-toed treecreeper. With a discreet question mark in the gutter, Rogers queries the description of intergradation between western megarhyncha and familiaris to its east. (Vaurie’s view still prevails, if HBW is a measure.)

The erased “35,” however, remains entirely inscrutable, with no discernible marks hinting at what Rogers might have found odd or objectionable in the entry for the bimaculated lark.

Apart from these notes, I have found one more instance of Rogers’s writing in the book. On page 381, he left a neat, firm check mark against the account for the bluethroat. No words, no numbers, no suggestion at all about what he meant to note or remember.

What could it have been?

It’s useful to remember that bird names in a book like Vaurie’s usually appear three times: once in the principal species account, of course, but also in the table of contents and in the index. And it is in the index that we find the error that provoked Rogers’s pencil.

There we find svecica (Luscinia, Motacilla) listed for page 382, which is in fact the second page of the species account, not the first. It’s a trivial error for a reader dealing with a printed book — just turn one page back — but I think it says a lot about Charles Rogers and his reading of Vaurie. Why he was reading so methodically, so pickily, I don’t know: I can’t find any evidence that Rogers ever reviewed Birds of the Palaearctic or that he ever cited it in any of his own publications.

But it is certain that he was reading close, whatever his motive.