Astonishingly enough, there appear to be those who do not believe that the juvenile least sandpiper is the most beautiful of all the world’s shorebirds.
Me, I have a hard time looking away when one presents itself. Who knows what feathered wonders I miss this time of year when I’m glued to the scope eyepiece out in the marshes?
Quite apart from their stunning colors, these little sandpipers have another allure: one of them could, just could, someday turn out to be not a least but a long-toed stint, a bird I have never seen but am constantly, so far fruitlessly, on the lookout for.
The lovely little least sandpiper above — here a larger image — dazzling as it is, wasn’t a very good candidate for misidentification. The pale forehead and nape, neat dark lore stripe, and brightly fringed wing coverts were all perfect for least and all not so great for its much rare cousin. Generously enough, just to seal the deal, it also repeatedly showed me its middle toe (a gesture distinct, I assume from showing me its middle finger).
Not quite long enough, even with all that gloppy mud.
After remodeling my palace and deporting my chief rivals, my aide and I started working on the mail. And there was a lot of it: communiqués from my secret list police, abject pleas for clemency from the notorious Gang of Five Feral Felines, solicitations from tailors eager to have a part in creating my coronation robes.
One brief missive really caught my attention, though. A young mother and her daughter wrote to say that they had been watching the birdies in their back yard when they noticed a rustling along the fence — and a Rodrigues solitaire strode calmly across the lawn.
Sorry. There is simply no way that a species last seen at the beginning of the eighteenth century could have escaped detection on my little island. The solitaire is gone, kaput, extinct forever. It’s a sad thing, but true. Dispiriting, but incontrovertible.
My aide rushed to his typewriter to begin the public ridicule. He hadn’t even reached the first carriage return, though, when I tore the creamy sheet of letterhead away — and reminded him of our exalted new position. Together, we wrote something else:
To Our Dear Loyal Friends and Subjects, We thank you for your communication of the 25th inst. Unfortunately, after so many years of unfruitful searches, we can say without any doubt that our lamented solitaire is extinct. While your sighting is interesting and of course sincere, you must have had a poor look at a more common, but still just as exciting, species. To thank you for your interest in our birds and their conservation, we are pleased to grant you a year’s membership in the MBA. We hope that you enjoy our flagship publication, Leguat’s Legate, and that you will continue to be in touch with your sightings and observations from what is a very interesting corner of our domain. Regally, etc.
I woke up feeling happy to have introduced two more of my fellow Mauritians to the joy of birding.
But alas, it was only a dream.
October 3: Autumn bird walk at Brookdale Park.
October 7: Autumn bird walk at Brookdale Park.
October 7: Book signing for Brookdale Park Conservancy.
October 8: “Putting Birds Where We Want Them,” a lecture for Real Macaw Parrot Club.
October 21: Lecture for Delmarva Ornithological Society.
November 9: Lecture for Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club.
December 5: Lecture and book-signing at Wild Birds Unlimited, Paramus.
March 3, 2016: Lecture for Delaware Valley Ornithological Club.
March 12-16: New Mexico field trip with Linnaean Society of New York.
March 19-26: Nebraska: Sandhill Cranes and Prairie Grouse.
April 14-22: Birds and Art In Catalonia.
April 24 – May 2: Birds and Art in Provence.
May 24: “How — and Why — To Start Birding,” a lecture for North Shore Audubon Society.
May 29 – June 4: Birds and Art in Burgundy.
August 3-6: Lecture and field trips for Southwest Wings.
September 30 – October 8: Birds and Art in Berlin and Brandenburg.
October 24 – November 1: Birds and Art in Venice and the Po Delta.
Today marks the 150th birthday of George Kruck Cherrie, an Iowa boy who grew up to become “prince of tropical American bird collectors.”
But he worked inside, too. In 1891, when he was 26 years old, Cherrie discovered and described a new species of tanager in the collections of the Costa Rica National Museum. The six specimens –which seem to be no longer in San José — had been collected a few years earlier by none other than José C. Zeledón.
Cherrie’s new tanager has had its taxonomic ups and downs, but Ramphocelus costaricensis is once again recognized as a full species distinct from the Passerini’s. And once again we call Cherrie’s tanager the Cherrie’s tanager.
R. costaricensis is well worthy to hold a place of honor among the song birds,
as worthy as the species’ discoverer is of his own place of honor among American collectors and ornithologists.