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May
20

“Never Assume the Obvious”

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Bonaparte's Gulls

real Bonaparte’s gull

One hundred years ago today, Ludlow Griscom was out shooting birds for his graduate alma mater, Cornell University. As Roger Tory Peterson told the story,

Firing into a flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls, he shot a bird which he skinned and labeled as an immature Bonaparte’s. Then taking aim at one of the passing Common Terns, he dropped it into the water, retrieved it, and subsequently labeled it an adult Common Tern.

You can guess what followed when

both specimens were re-examined. The supposed Bonaparte’s was actually a Little Gull, the first record for upstate New York; the tern was an Arctic Tern…. May 20, 1916, had been a red-letter day, but Ludlow did not appreciate it at the time.

“Never assume the obvious,” the resolutely unchastened Griscom told his disciples. But Peterson, telling this tale long after Griscom’s death, did just that. It would seem to be obvious that Griscom made up his own skins. Not this time, though.

Look what I found:

Screenshot 2015-08-20 14.20.44

I guess we know what America’s greatest bird painter was doing, too, one hundred years ago today.

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May
19

Upcoming Events and Tours

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Birders birding La Crau sheep barn

Read more about my tour program at the website of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours.

sharp-tailed grouse

May 24: “How — and Why — To Start Birding,” a lecture for North Shore Audubon Society.

May 25: “Made in New Jersey,” a lecture for Atlantic Audubon Society.

Ipswich Sparrow

August 5: “Sparrow Tails,” a lecture at the Southwest Wings Birding Festival.

August 6: “A Day with Rick Wright” at the Southwest Wings Birding Festival.

August 7: Bird walk and book signing at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park.

January 9, 2007, Boyce Thompson 024

August 11-14: Museum workshops and field trips at the Southeast Arizona Birding Festival.

August 15-20: Lecture and field trips at the ABA Birding Rally, Sierra Vista.

September 21: “The Very Worst Bird Names Ever, and Why They’re Not So Bad,” a lecture for Bergen County Audubon Society.

September 30 – October 8: Birds and Art in Berlin and Brandenburg.

Berlin Siegessäule

October 24 – November 1: Birds and Art in Venice and the Po Delta.

March 11-18, 2017: Nebraska: Sandhill Cranes and Prairie Grouse.

Gibbon Bridge sunrise sandhill cranes

May 2-10, 2017: Birds and Art in Provence.

May 12-23, 2017: Birds and Art in Tuscany.

European bee-eaters

September 13-20, 2017: The Pine Ridge and Black Hills, a field trip with the Linnaean Society of New York.

Pine Ridge sunrise

September 29 – October 7, 2017: Birds and Art in Berlin and Brandenburg.

common crane

December 19-27, 2017: Christmas in Salzburg.

Hooded Crow and European Red Squirrel

Read more about my tour program at the website of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours.

Sycamore-Rick.jpg

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May
18

Alice’s Little Thrush

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gray-cheeked thrush

All birding, they say, is local, and there’s nothing like a mid-May visit to the old midwest to prove it. The species I was happiest to see last week in Michigan included the golden-winged warbler, black-billed cuckoo, and Tennessee warbler — none of them exactly rare in New Jersey, either, but it’s a fine feeling to roll out early on a warm morning and know that those and so many other migrants could be almost counted on.

Gray-cheeked thrushes, too, are vastly more common and vastly easier to see west of here, and it was gratifying to get excellent and prolonged views of this secretive bird several times last week.

But it was doubly gratifying to look out the window here at home this morning to see the bird in the photo bouncing around the backyard. It’s hard to get much more local than that.

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Apr
05

Other People’s Bird Books: Bonaparte’s Pigeons

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This one is, simply put, spectacular. The front wrapper of the University of Wisconsin’s copy of the offprint of Charles Bonaparte’s Coup d’œil sur l’ordre des pigeons bears this inscription:

Screenshot 2016-04-05 16.31.56

The black ink is a bit hard to read on the green ground, and it didn’t help that Bonaparte or someone smeared the leaf, but it reads

M. Waterton

Walton Hall near York, from his friend the author — 

care of Mr. Gould.

Bonaparte and Charles Waterton had been on good terms ever since the ships they were traveling on collided in June 1841, an accident that resulted in their reconciliation after some earlier hurt feelings. Gould, of course, is John Gould, the English artist and entrepreneur, a frequent go-between for Bonaparte and his colleagues in Britain.

This little book passed through some pretty famous hands before it somehow made its way to Madison.

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Mar
06

Early Birds

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DSC09442

I felt even more virtuous than usual when I arrived at Brookdale Park this morning to find that I was the first birder of the day.

Or so I thought.

merlin

This female merlin, presumably the same bird that has been hanging around most of the winter and quite possibly the same bird that I had seen a day earlier in downtown Montclair, had already taken a commanding perch over my — or I guess I should say our — sparrow patch.

sharp-shinned hawk

A couple of hundred yards away, this little male sharp-shinned hawk kept watch over the same half acre of weeds.

Neither of my competitors moved in the hour and a half I was there, but it was evident nonetheless that they and the other raptors wintering and passing through the park of late are eating well.

mourning dove

I’m happy to share.

Brookdale Park magic edge in March

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