Archive for Quizzes
Here, from “the happy pencil of Mr Titian Peale” and engraved by Alexander Lawson, “justly styled the first ornithological engraver of [his] age,” we have the Rocky Mountain Anteater.
“This bird,” wrote Charles Lucian Bonaparte in 1825,
is one of those beings which seem created to puzzle the naturalist, and convince him that nature will never conform to his systems, no matter how perfect his ingenuity [in] devising them.
In his text, Bonaparte styles the bird an “antcatcher,” a group (he calls it a “genus”) more or less corresponding to what we now think of as the antbirds and woodcreepers of the American tropics. He explicitly rejects several earlier attempts to pin down this species’ affinities — including Thomas Say’s 1822 identification of the Colorado type specimen (probably skinned and put up by none other than Titian Peale) as a troglodytid,
a bird more closely related to the great Carolina wren of Wilson than any other.
On his voyage west in 1834, Thomas Nuttall was able to satisfy himself that Say had been correct and that the “antcatcher” was in fact a wren; Audubon followed Nuttall in adopting Say’s name Troglodytes obsoleta. Jean Cabanis would later re-assign the bird to a new genus, Salpinctes, a name selected “in allusion,” says Coues, “to the bird’s loud, ringing song” (Cabanis, on the other hand, believed that the name was a proper noun denoting the Eurasian Wren).
By the time he published his Geographical and Comparative List in 1838, Bonaparte, too, had come around to accepting his antbird as a wren. We still agree today, and his Myiothera obsoleta is now known to the rest of us as the Rock Wren.
But I’m calling them anteaters from now on.
What on earth is a Rocky Mountain Anteater?
Google if you must, but the first non-googler to answer correctly in the comments below will win a book prize.
This isn’t it. (Giant anteater, Guyana)
Which Calidris sandpiper exhibits the greatest variability in its adult plumages? The Ruff, like this very pretty black and red male we watched in Hungary last year.
This was really less a quiz than a trick question. Birders who took note of the recent transfer by the AOU of this species from Merrem’s venerable monotypic genus Philomachus into an expanded Calidris will have known the answer right away — and others, never.
The much more difficult question was the second: What would your response have been a year ago, in August 2012, back when Calidris was a bit less all-encompassing?
I’m not sure myself. The Dunlin is certainly a strong candidate, with its seasonal switch from starling gray to coppery, black, and white further complicated by considerable geographic variation.
There are also the Curlew Sandpiper and the Red Knot, whose transformations from red to gray and back again are equally dramatic.
But this time of year, I’d add the Semipalmated Sandpiper to the list, too. Looking close at the hordes of southbound adults, we can find pale birds and dark birds, heavily streaked and lightly marked, brownish and grayish, evenly spangled and sloppily splotched, plain-backed and bright white-striped….
There’s really no such thing as a plain Calidris, is there?
Most people tuned out with the title, I’m guessing, but anyone who’s still here might find this an interesting question:
Which of the Calidris sandpipers shows the greatest variability in its adult plumages?
And for extra credit, think this one through:
What would your answer have been a year ago at this time?
What is it, and how old is it?
New Jersey, July.