Archive for New Jersey Birding
It’s October now, and they’re everywhere here in northern New Jersey, woods and thickets and messy backyards full of their homely little tock notes.
Yellow-rumped warblers are so abundant and so familiar that we can forget that they had to be “discovered” for European science. But it should be easy enough to find out who deserves credit for shooting and describing the first one.
This is a Creeper, and seems to be of the Tit-kind. The most distinguish’d Part of this Bird is its Rump, which is yellow. All the Rest of the Feathers are brown, having a faint Tincture of Green. It runs about the Bodies of Trees, and feeds on Insects, which it pecks from the Crevises of the Bark. The Hen differs little from the Cock in the Colour of its Feathers.
None too informative, is it? Fortunately, Catesby’s plate should clear things up.
Or so one might think.
Recently, most ornithologists have been content to identify Catesby’s yellow-rump with our yellow-rump, the bird now known as Setophaga coronata; it’s as good a guess as any, though I often wonder whether we might not be looking at, and Catesby describing, one of those so dull Cape May warblers one runs into this time of year.
What we do know is that Linnaeus, who named so many organisms in reliance on Catesby’s Natural History, did not believe that Catesby had depicted coronata, which the Archiater described instead from a handsome and well-detailed plate by George Edwards (whose Motacilla corona aurea was, of course, the inspiration for the Linnaean name).
Edwards, too, another of Catesby’s closest readers, failed to recognize in the old “yellow-rump” the warbler he, Edwards, was describing; indeed, he says in 1760, 28 years after the first publication of the Catesbeian plate, that
these birds, I think, may safely be pronounced non-descripts,
that is, members of a species not yet formally described to science.
What do you think? Is Mark Catesby’s “yellow-rump” a yellow-rump?
The strigid equivalent of a hot tub under the stars, I suppose.
Sixty years ago today:
Is it a coincidence that Peter Benchley spent the last years of his life on Boudinot Street, just a couple of miles away? I don’t think so.
Hunn, one of the sadly many forgotten names in New Jersey birding, was also in on the discovery of the first western grebe and western meadowlark for the state, in 1939 and 1940, respectively. A founder of the Urner Club, Hunn died 60 years ago today, having witnessed
the rapid urbanization of farm and wilderness areas … the appearance of the Starling (1912) and the attempts to introduce the European Goldfinch.
I wonder what he would think of our fair Garden State today.
This charming black-throated green warbler — an adult female, I believe — was busily picking nearly invisible bugs from Alison’s aster bed this morning.
P[arus] viridis gutture nigro, the green black throated flycatcher.
In June 1756, the very young Bartram had sent skins of this species and of the black-and-white warbler from “the province of Pensilvania” to George Edwards, who described and painted them in the Gleanings of 1760.
Edwards called our bird the black-throated green flycatcher, and it was his account that Gmelin drew on to assign the species its formal Linnaean name, Motacilla [later Sylvia, then Dendroica, now Setophaga] virens.
Interestingly, it seems that in the later eighteenth century there was resistance to the unwieldy English name adopted by Edwards. In France, both Buffon and Brisson called this bird simply “black-throated,” while across the Channel Pennant, Turton, and Latham all preferred to emphasize the color of the upperparts by calling it the “green warbler.”
It was up to Alexander Wilson, Bartram’s grateful friend, to restore his master’s English name, which he did in only imperfect faithfulness to the original: the charming bird in the upper lefthand corner of Wilson’s plate 17 is labeled “Green black-throated Warbler,” as in Bartram, though his text reads — the first instance of the modern English name in print — “black-throated green warbler.”
Audubon, who was the first to depict the female of the species, followed Edwards and Wilson’s letterpress in using the sequence “black-throated green” rather than the more logical “green black-throated”:
And so it has remained ever since, a long name for a tiny bird.