Mockingbird in New Jersey!

Northern Mockingbird

It may not strike us as all that exciting today, but 75 years ago, it was a red-letter day when John Hunn and his sister discovered a northern mockingbird in Plainfield.

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.


Little Bird, Big Name

Black-throated Green Warbler

This charming black-throated green warbler — an adult female, I believe — was busily picking nearly invisible bugs from Alison’s aster bed this morning.

The species ultimately owes its long English name to none other than William Bartram, who listed it in the Travels as

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, Gl 2, black-throated green warbler

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 Setophagavirens.

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.”

wilson, Plate 17, green black-throated 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”:

Screenshot 2014-10-01 18.03.21

And so it has remained ever since, a long name for a tiny bird.


Do You Hear Hoofbeats?

Gellert and I are used to running into interesting birds on his walks: in just the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen a fine peregrine falcon, a common raven, and a smattering of the commoner southbound warblers. This morning, though, we came across something totally unexpected.

Gould, SynAust, Zebra Finch

We screeched to a halt when a tiny, short-tailed gray thing flushed from the roadside into a low tree, and were startled to see a little zebra finch looking back at us.

It was a long flight on those short wings from this species’ native range. Or do you suppose — just suppose — that somebody left a window open last night?

Vieillot, OisChant, Zebra Finch


Cape May

Yes, we arrived a day late for the whiskered tern and we left a day early for the zone-tailed hawk: but my latest tour had a great time at Cape May last week all the same. A few photos:

Birding birders Cape May

The view from the hotel balcony at dawn.

Birding birders Cape May

Sunrise over the beach.

Birding birders Cape May

Some autumn color in Atlantic County.

Birding birders Cape May

An eastern ribbon snake in the Meadows (or some Thamnophis or another).

Brown Thrasher

One of many, many, many brown thrashers at Higbee Beach.

Birding birders Cape May

If you get a chance to bird with this genial gang, do it!

Birding birders Cape May

The beach scene across from our hotel.

Birding birders Cape May

Black skimmers and a nice variety of gulls and terns, there for the picking just steps from our door.

Birding birders Cape May

A great cormorant joins its smaller cousins on the concrete ship.

Birding birders Cape May

We’ll be back.