Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wednesdays with Audubon, Chapter 10

John James Audubon spent all of June 18th aboard the boat, arranging and drawing his specimens as best he could while observing many different gulls from the boat. It is interesting to read that, for a while, he continued to misidentify the Herring Gulls as immature Greater Black-Backed. Audubon though to himself, "knowing the tyrannical disposition of the L. marinus (Black-Backed), I am sure they would not suffer a species almost as powerful as themselves in their immediate neighborhood. They fly together, but the white ones do not alight on the rocks where the marinus has its nest."
 Even the great ones have trouble with Gull identification!

 Audubon continued to catch up on his drawings of Guillemots and Gulls throughout the next few days, even as the weather improved such that they were getting some 18 hours of sunlight each day at 55 degrees fahrenheit (perfect!). His men continued to explore the surrounding rocky islands, having little luck collecting specimens of the Eider and Terns that were breeding, but nonetheless collecting many varieties of eggs, some of which Audubon notes as being delicious, and some as not.

It's interesting to juxtapose Audubon's naturalist intentions with his very direct and fatal approach to collecting his specimens. Of course back then there were few endangered species, and preserving some of these wild populations was of little concern to either Audubon or the general public. Despite his apparent callousness, Audubon was very aware of the delicate balance. With a clear disdain, he comments on some evidence he and his men found of "egging" expeditions: "The eggers (people who would take and sell large quantities of the eggs in the southern towns) confiscate or destroy all of the eggs that are sat upon, to force the birds to lay again, and by robbing them regularly, they lay till nature is exhausted, and few young are raised. In less than half a century these wonderful nurseries will be entirely destroyed, unless some kind government will interfere to stop the destruction."

For the next five days Audubon and his men sat at harbor rather despondently, waiting for a favorable wind to carry them on to new adventures. They had naught but a few Gulls and the eternally noisy seals for company, who seemed to relish and taunt the sailors' immobility. Audubon did meet with some luck on the shore, where he shot and collected his first Canada Jays (Gray Jay) and Ruby-Crowned Kinglets for the year.

Hopefully when we return to JJ Audubon next week, he will finally receive that fortunate wind, and keep the birds coming.


  1. Fascinating! Audubon's so often made out as having turned a blind eye toward the natural consequences of what he was doing -- I'm glad to know that he was more aware than he gets credit for.

    1. That's interesting Nick.
      I had known/heard very little about Audubon before I started reading these journals. His methods of gathering specimens are eyebrow-raising now, but I haven't heard much contemporary commentary on this. I guess I always assumed it was because Audubon's in the, err hem, Catbird's seat, and because the publicity he brought to the birding world made up for it.
      But I'm certainly not well informed on any of this, I just like to come along for the ride.

      Thanks for stopping by