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.

The 2011 Butler Bird of the Year

Well it took about a month and a half to decide, but the jury has finally reached a verdict on the best Butler Bird of the Year (also know as the B-BOY award, only slightly less famous than the Oscars). With close competition from Phainopeplas, a Townsends Warbler, and an inner city Lewis's Woodpecker, the award goes to...the Elf Owl!

This was certainly the most surprising sighting of the year, both because of the relatively uncommon and inconspicuous nature of the bird. I'm never really expecting to see Owls, which maybe explains why this and the Great Horned are the only two I've ever seen in the wild.

These tiny birds were hanging out at the Desert Botanical Gardens in September, and provided one of the best all-round birding experiences of my 2011 birding year. I'm definitely hoping to get some more owls this year, but I don't know if any of them will match this super fun sighting. Here's hoping!

See the full Elf Owl adventure recorded here