Right on the shores of Crooked Tree Lagoon, Birds Eye View will be our comfortable home base for the next couple of days. Toni and I arrived mid-afternoon, leaving us time for a little birding before the rest of our group arrives, and it has been well worth it. Among our highlights so far: the black-collared hawk that flapped in to land just a few yards away, and several lesser yellow-headed vultures skimming the low treetops in search of carrion. And of course, the dapper little Morelet seedeater, a bird that if it isn’t everyone’s favorite should be.
Birding starts up in earnest tomorrow morning. Can’t wait!
Noisy and colorful, the eastern towheeappears to have been a well-known bird to early European settlers in North America. Indeed, this big and conspicuous sparrow was the subject of one of the first bird paintings ever made by a European naturalist on this continent.
The caption to this copy of John White’s sixteenth-century watercolor reminds us just how many folk names, and in how many languages, this bird has had over the centuries. I was reminded of another one this morning—one that I believe is attested in the writings of only one ornithologist.
In his manuscript list of the birds of Point Breeze, Charles Lucien Bonaparte calls the towhee “chitterwing.” On his return to Italy in 1827, he used the same name in the Specchio comparative, and it occurs again in the German-language reprint of that work in the 1834 volume of the Isis von Oken. In each instance, “chitterwing” is the only English name assigned the species.
It is very rare that a vernacular bird name turns out to be genuinely hapax in the ornithological corpus, but I think that this one is. Or have you run across it elsewhere? And if you have, what do you think its origin is?
Joan, Sally, and I met for a quick walk at Point Breeze this morning, hoping that the evening’s northerly winds had brought in some migrants. There were goodly numbers of blue jays and yellow-shafted flickers, but for whatever reasons, the smaller neotrops we’d been looking for just didn’t show themselves today.
For whatever reasons: the bird pictured below may have been one of them, hunting the low vegetation before flying up to perch in the twigs in front of us.
This fine adult (probably a male) Cooper hawk could hardly have chosen a more suitable place to show up, especially in this, the 225th anniversary year of the birth of the species’ eponym, William Cooper. For it was here, on the grounds of Point Breeze, that the type specimen was collected one late September day.
Charles Bonaparte, then living at Point Breeze with his wife and their family, had the bird drawn and engraved by Alexander Lawson, who, writes Bonaparte, had “outdone himself” in the “perfect accuracy” of his “delineation of this bird, in all the details of its plumage, bill, and feet.”
Bonaparte named the bird for William Cooper, the famous malacologist, who alongside other favors oversaw the publication of the American Ornithology on Bonaparte’s return to Europe at the end of 1826. Coincidentally, Bonaparte reports that Cooper himself collected what appears to have been the first female specimen of the species just a couple of months later on Long Island.
It would be too much by far to imagine that this morning’s bird was a descendant of Bonaparte’s type (especially given that that bird may have been shot before it was sufficiently mature to breed). But still I like to think that some accipitrine spirit dwells in the place.
I spoke to a pleasant woman in Bordentown this morning, who told me that accessto Point Breeze is at present limited to the sidewalks between the new visitor center and the town hall—which hardly counts as access at all. But as soon as the state opens the woods and the ruins of the Bonaparte estate to the public, we’ll put together an excursion to explore the place together.