Archive for Information
The first issue of The Oölogist for 1881 started out with a series of corrections, “as it is extremely desirable that our collectors should make no mistakes.”
They shouldn’t, but they did: the corrigenda listed here include a report of two nests and eggs of the Brant from Michigan; the account of Great Gray Owls breeding in Virginia; and a record of three “slightly incubated” clutches of Yellow-billed Magpie eggs taken in Colorado.
More than doubtful, but they had all passed the scrutiny of the journal’s editor, Joseph M. Wade. Over at the Smithsonian, Robert Ridgway was more vigilant, and he wrote Wade privately on December 6, 1880, to point out how “astounding” such reports were:
there is quite certainly some mistake, which should be corrected.
Wade dutifully published an excerpt of Ridgway’s note the next month. Here is the full text of the letter:
Letting ten days pass before answering a letter seems a venial trespass to me. Ridgway’s mention of his being “extremely busy” seems to be the sort of thing most of us say most of the time, but in this case, we know — thanks to Dan Lewis’s excellent Feathery Tribe — that the year had been an especially frustrating one for the ornithologist.
Ridgway’s first major work as an illustrator had been on the first three volumes of the … History of North American Birds…. when he was then asked in 1880 to hand color the plates for the projected last two volumes, he exploded [to Spencer Baird]…. ‘It seems to me hard to expect one who (excepting yourself) had by far the greatest labor to perform in the preparation of the work and this in the midst of engrossing duties, to thrive upon the rather barren honor of authorship…’ [Lewis 55]
Of course, Ridgway kept such details to himself in his polite note to Wade. But it is still a measure of his concern for accuracy and the amateur that he took time from his museum work, his painting and writing, to nudge North American birding along just one little step more.
Audubon’s famous Fork-tailed Flycatcher, collected in New Jersey in June 1832, gets all the press.
But that wasn’t the first fork-tail recorded in the US — or even, amazingly enough, the first for New Jersey.
Sometime before 1825 — the usual date in the secondary literature seems to be “around 1820,” while Boyle gives “around 1812″ –
a beautiful male, in full plumage … was shot near Bridgetown, New-Jersey, at the extraordinary season of the first week in December, and was presented by Mr. J. Woodcraft, of that town, to Mr. Titian Peale, who favoured me with the opportunity of examining it.
When James Bond set out, almost 75 years ago now, to determine the subspecific identity of US Fork-tailed Flycatchers, he was unable to locate any of the specimens taken before 1834, “if any exist.” But even absent a skin, Bonaparte’s detailed description of the Bridgeton bird allows us to pin it down almost 200 years later:
… the three outer [primaries] have a very extraordinary and profound sinus or notch on their inner webs, near the tip, so as to terminate in a slender process.
That is enough, according to Zimmer, to identify the Woodcraft specimen as a member of the subspecies savana (then known as tyrannus).
That austral migrant, abundant in its range, is responsible for almost all northerly records of this species, though Zimmer identified one New Jersey specimen, of unknown date and locality, as sanctaemartae (a determination adjudged only “possible” by Pyle).
To Bonaparte, it was “evident” that his specimen “must have strayed from its native country under the influence of extraordinary circumstances.”
That’s for sure.
Pizarro killed a man in Louisiana in March 1845, but remained active as a performer.
Two years later, on April 15, 1847, the animal keepers forced Pizarro and a second elephant, Virginius, into the water at Greenwich Point, Pennsylvania, hoping that they would swim across the Delaware to Gloucester Point.
This tall, dark, and handsome Snowy Owl, loafing in the dunes of Sandy Hook this morning, is one of about four reported in the state over the past couple of days, a total that is already better than average for a New Jersey winter. Maybe we’ll get the snowy winter we’re due after several years when the species’ incursions have stopped just north or just west of us.
Snowy Owls are famous for their tolerance of humans — and infamous for their brashness on the breeding grounds. In 1863, a hundred fifty years ago this year, this is what Thomas Wright Blakiston had to say about the species in its Canadian nesting range:
its audacity is such, that it was related to me by a chief factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s service, that he knew of an instance of one carrying off a wounded bird from the haversack of a hunter; its wing, having been sticking out and fluttering, attracted the Owl’s attention.
The Snowy Owl is the heaviest, most powerful, and — if you’re a hunter with a wing flapping out of your haversack — scariest owl in North America. It’s not the largest in the world though: that distinction belongs to another member of the genus Bubo.
Named, coincidentally, for Blakiston. What goes around, comes around.
Earlier this month we posed a challenge: Who could find a photograph of a Common Nighthawk older than the one Robert R. Peebles took in Connecticut in June 1900?
This spectacular image, published in the first volume of Bird-Lore in 1899, was made in Nova Scotia by a certain “C. Will Beebe” — known to the rest of us, of course, as William Beebe, one of the most colorful characters in the history of North American zoology and a notable pioneer in the photography of wild birds, including the ABA 2013 Bird of the Year.