Thursday, October 30, 2008

Black-throated Sparrow

On this day in 1961, a Black-throated Sparrow showed up at a feeder maintained by Mrs. H. MacKenzie near New Brunswick in Middlesex County. According to John Bull, who did the writeup in the Auk, "She reported that it fed on marigold seeds as well as a mixture of 'wild bird' feed," (in case you have any ideas about getting Black-throated Sparrows at your feeder this winter). The bird stayed until 23 April of the following year and was seen by "hundreds" (Bull, again) of birders. There have been two more accepted records of Black-throated Sparrows in the state since then, both starting in mid-December: one in 1974-1975 and another in 1992-1993.

The bottom line is that most birds that visit feeders are the expected ones, but way-out-of-range birds are in no position to shun feeders and a fair number of rarities over the years have turned up in this situation.

Bull, John L. 1963. Black-throated Sparrows in the eastern United States. Auk 80:379-380. PDF here

"We take you now to Grovers Mill, New Jersey"

Originally uploaded by ammodramus88
On this day in 1938, a Martian saucer landed in the bucolic setting of Grover's Mill, a mere stone's throw from where I currently reside. I have to say, given the remaining traces on the landscape, it's as if it never happened; all that's left is this monument and, of course, the typical local pride that comes along with something so momentous having happened in the immediate neighborhood. Why, even the old mill that gave Grover's Mill its name survives. The Yoyodyne Systems campus is difficult to locate, but that comes as no surprise given its checkered history, as well as the plentitude of corporate campuses (campii?) along this part of the Rt. 1 corridor.

What many people don't realize is that another Martian craft landed in the Great Swamp, an NWR that seems ignorant of its connection to this event. According to a news bulletin of the time from Basking Ridge, it was discovered by hunters, although the pinpointing of its location as "twenty miles south of Morristown" is wildly inaccurate. I guess that if the newscasters of the day had had access to modern-day bird-finding guides, they might have done a bit better. Or perhaps they were somewhat over-excited by the unprecedented events they were called upon to report.

As usual, seeking a birdy connection to this non-birding event, I came up short. The best I could do was the report of "black birds" that feasted upon the unlucky Martians' remains in Central Park; perhaps NJ corvids from the Newark and Secaucus marshes joined the mayhem, but that would require further digging into historical crow roost reports, some of which were notably vague due to concern over persecution.

War of the Worlds script
War of the Worlds website
Wired post on War of the Worlds

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Perfect Birding Librarian Storm

As a birding LIS student, I just couldn't resist blogging this.

When my mom asked about Bar-tailed Godwits the other night on the phone, I knew a bird celebrity had been born. Sure enough, today the Dewey Blog had an entry entitled "Migration of Bar-Tailed Godwits". If you had any reason to wonder what Dewey Decimal Number such a migration would get, wonder no longer.

All four species of godwits have been recorded in NJ. The first Bar-tail showed up at Absecon in 1937, and one bird visited Longport from 1972 to 1982. The last NJ record was from Nummy's Island in September 1985.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


On this day in 1932, Charles Urner found two Ruffs near Tuckerton, Ocean County. In that day, on the cusp between specimen and sight identification, Urner took no specimens but notes, then repaired to specimens to double-check his conclusions. This was not the first record of Ruff for NJ, since there was at least one previous specimen record cited in Chapman (1906).

In subsequent years, Ruffs became synonymous with Pedricktown in springtime, but that is not so much the case now. They seem to be easier to find in Delaware than Jersey these days, at least in spring.

Urner, Charles A. 1933. The Ruff in New Jersey. Auk 50:101. PDF here

Monday, September 29, 2008

Western Kingbird

On this day in 1894, A. H. Phillips found a Western Kingbird (in that day, an Arkansas Kingbird) in Princeton, Mercer County, and took it as a specimen. This was just the first recorded instance of what has become an expected fall vagrant in NJ: so expected, in fact, that it has never been a Review List species.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Grail Bird Book

Note: There is no Ivory-billed Woodpecker content in this post. If you're looking for a grail bird, please move along, there's nothing to see here. This post is about bird books.

Some of the happiest hours of my life have been spent in used bookstores. There's nothing better than poring over titles and wandering between bookcases, down aisles almost too narrow to travel because of the need to make room for even more books (every bibliophile knows that you can never have too many bookcases). The thrill of the hunt extends equally to the prospect of scoring a great bargain and to scoring a book that you've always wanted (and perhaps have never even seen). Why, that book might be on the very next shelf you check!

Fast forward to Google Book Search.

Suddenly, a huge array of books are at your virtual fingertips. You can search, or even download the entire text of some public-domain books as PDF files. You can create your own virtual library, with no need to jam yet another set of bookcases into your already crowded living space (let's put it this way, when I have my annual fireplace inspection, even the chimney sweeps comment on all my books). It would seem like a wonderful thing...

As usual, wonderful things often aren't quite as simple as they appear at first blush. There's been a lot of controversy and even litigation over Google's Book Search; you can find all that on your own if you don't know about it already.

Getting back to the point, this blog's focus is NJ birding history. Early works concerning the birds of NJ (or, indeed, any state) are often difficult to find and command a certain price if you can find them. The sad fact is that old bird books are valuable both as objects to a book collector, and as sources of information to birders. That drives the prices up, and none of us have as much money as we would like to build our own reference libraries (even without the prospect of a total collapse of the financial system...I'll be the one towing a little red wagon with a stack of bird books as I stand in the bread line!).

William Turnbull's The Birds of East Pennsylvania and New Jersey was singled out by Witmer Stone in Bird Studies at Old Cape May as the first really reliable list of NJ birds. As a result, it was immediately added to my list of grail books. However, it's scarce, having only been printed in two editions totalling 200 copies in 1869. When I stumbled across its PDF version in Google Book Search (linked to in the sidebar), I was overjoyed. As a birder, I wanted the information more than the object. This seemed like a perfect solution for me to access the information in the book without having to shell out the big bucks for an actual copy, or find an institution holding a copy. Life was good.

As I paged through the PDF, I started finding problems. The first tip-off should've been that the PDF was 105 pages long, whereas the last numbered page was 65; even allowing for the front matter, there was bound to be a discrepancy. Then there were all the blank pages, or worse, the pages with a random chunk of text and lots of white space. This was not a document you could read through easily. As I looked at it, I got more and more perplexed.

Last weekend found me in the New Jersey Room of Rutgers University's Special Collections (to be found in the basement of Alexander Library on the New Brunswick College Avenue campus). I was there sussing out the collection for classwork, but also for personal research interests such as genealogy and birds. They had two different copies of Turnbull's book on the shelf, one with its own special handmade archival case. I looked at the copy that did not have to be disinterred from the case, and discovered that the blank places in the PDF often corresponded to illustrations in the original. I also found that the illustrations (as was typical for books of that era) were covered by pages of tissue. Now the PDF made more sense, if the illustrations were omitted and the tissue pages were scanned like pages with type on them (or if they sometimes obscured pages with type during the scanning process).

I was lucky to find a real copy of Turnbull's book to "ground-truth" Google's PDF. I'm also lucky to have access to a good academic library as a current grad student (though any Rutgers alum can also have such privileges, plus the Special Collections are available to outside researchers). Many people would not have these advantages.

Bottom line: Google Book Search can be a good thing to improve access to old, scarce books (and I'll certainly be using it myself), but in the end, you may still be better off with the actual book.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

American White Pelican

On this day in 1943, Fletcher Street found an American White Pelican in Beverly, Burlington County. To quote the report in Cassinia, "The bird was in perfect health and able to fly. The Philadelphia Zoo was called and stated that no birds had escaped" (Ross 1944).

The statement in Cassinia that it was the first record of the species in eighty years leads to an interesting paper chase. The statement appears to refer to a report from C. C. Abbott of three pelicans that he saw at Sandy Hook in February 1864. Stone (1965) mentions the report without other comment under the species, while in the bibliography he says, "...Dr. Abbott has recorded many species as breeders in the state which occur only as migrants. In later publications...he endeavors to substantiate some of these statements but presents no satisfactory data while he corrects or contradicts other statements." Griscom (1923) didn't mince words, stating, "Dr. C. C. Abbott claimed to have seen three of these birds flying off Sandy Hook in February 1864, but his observations are known to have been so unreliable that this cannot be accepted as a definite record. The date renders the suspicion unavoidable that the birds were Gannets." Fables (1955) concluded, "Old records [of the species] seem worthless."

Luckily for present-day birders, American White Pelican has since established a less checkered history in the state. Late summer has become the typical time of year to check for the (now expected) pelican at Brigantine NWR, though the last time I was there turned out to be a lesson in how inconspicuous a big white bird can be as it loafs in the impoundments.

An interesting side note to the original record is this passage on life (or rather, birding) during wartime: "War conditions naturally have continued to restrict the activities of the Club. The absence of some thirty younger members who are serving in the armed forces, the exclusion of observers from some coastal and other areas, and restrictions on the use of binoculars have been factors which cut deeply into the number of records reported" (Ross 1944).

Ross, C. Chandler, ed. 1944. Field notes for the 1942-1943 season: October 1, 1942 to September 30, 1943. Cassinia 33:31-34.

Monday, September 22, 2008


So, what exactly counts as physical evidence when reporting a bird sighting? The dead bird itself (aka, a specimen) is an obvious choice, but does any other form of what we often call "physical evidence" have a similar degree of "reality"? That is the question that Rick Wright takes up in a recent post from Aimophila Adventures. I've got to say that an apprentice librarian such as myself ought to be able to come up with some trenchant arguments on this question, but unfortunately it usually takes me a while to come up with my trenchant arguments. So, in the meantime, I'll refer you to the original post.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Great Hurricane of 1938

Hurricane 1938
Originally uploaded by UncoveringWestport
On this day in 1938, an unnamed storm blasted through the northeast without warning. In retrospect, it became known as the Great Hurricane of 1938, or the Long Island Express. Over 600 people died because of the storm, and it caused massive damage. It's become routine in this area (i.e., the NJ-tristate-midAtlantic area) to say, "We're overdue for a big storm," but if you read Everett S. Allen's A Wind to Shake the World, and look at the wake of recent hurricanes such as Ike (never mind Katrina), you'll probably wind up begging providence not to send one up this way. At least, I do. On one hand, we have much better advance warning systems in place today. On the other hand, I'm sure many more people live in the places ravaged by the 1938 hurricane today than did then.

When I realized that we were going to see the 70th anniversary of the 1938 storm this year, I started poking around in search of NJ bird records that might be related to it. I didn't have much luck; there were fewer observers then and the storm didn't ramp up to full intensity until it got north of NJ. What storm-related records there were tended to come from other states. The Auk had a good roundup of them (Allen et al. 1939).

But, as is often the case, NJ had a special wrinkle to add to the story. Well after the hurricane had passed and was wreaking havoc on New England, a series of huge waves came ashore in coastal NJ. Although it would seem that these waves were likely associated with the hurricane, it has also been hypothesized that the waves were actually tsunamis. Check out NOAA's page on Tidal Waves and Other Extreme Waves for more information.

The photo that illustrates this post comes from the Westport Historical Society in Westport, Massachusetts, which has posted a collection of hurricane photos on Flickr. An evocative post about the storm and its memory long after the fact comes from

Allen, Glover M. 1939. Hurricane aftermath. Auk 176-179. PDF here

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

In the Mailbox: New Jersey Birds Summer 2008

Yesterday I got the latest issue of New Jersey Birds in the mail. This issue features an article on the first state record of Lesser Nighthawk by Michael O'Brien, as well as a couple of notes by yours truly (Barnacle Goose added to the full State List, Cave Swallow dropped from the Review List).

I'm not writing this post to toot my own horn, though. If you belong to NJ Audubon, you can receive New Jersey Birds as part of your membership at no extra charge. You have to ask for it, though, and it's easy to overlook on your membership renewal form. I'm not sure that there is any organized way to sign up for NJB when becoming a new member, though I would be more than happy to be corrected and hear otherwise. Please comment, if so.

The articles in NJB usually deal with significant avian events such as first state records, or in another example, NJ's first Royal Tern nesting colony (that article was in the spring issue). NJBRC business is also published in the journal; the fall issue always contains the NJBRC Annual Report, along with color photos of some of the rarities that were voted on during the circulation year.

The real meat of NJB (or RNJB to us old-timers, since the journal's name used to be Records of New Jersey Birds) is the sighting reports. NJ is divided into five regions (which are also used in Boyle's A Guide to Bird Finding in New Jersey), each of which has a regional compiler (here's the current list of compilers). You can also look at NJB issues back to fall 2006 as PDFs on this page, though there are many years of previous issues that have not been digitized (hint: snap them up if you stumble across them).

Although we are in a transitional time when it comes to the technology of sharing bird sightings (eBird, anyone?), the framework of regional compilers found in NJ and other states (and upon which North American Birds is also built) is the traditional means for reporting sightings of interest. Looking at past issues of NJB can give you an idea of what observations are particularly interesting in terms of the state's historical record (and no, Review List species are not the only birds of interest). It's certainly easy to send an e-mail to JerseyBirds or post your photos on Flickr, but you'll make compilers' jobs a little easier if you send your observations directly to them as well.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Jersey Game Bird Names 1

In 1888, Gurdon Trumbull wrote a book called Names and Portraits of Birds Which Interest Gunners with Descriptions in Language Understanded of the People. Harper and Brothers published it, and I found a copy of it in a Maine used bookstore years ago for $25, but now you can find it on Google Books. How times change. The photo that illustrates this post is the gilt American Woodcock that adorns the cover of my copy.

According to French (1878), Trumbull was, "The finest fish-painter of America..." This was intended as a compliment, I should add. French went on to lament, "Unfortunately for the art, Mr. Trumbull's circumstances have been such that he has never been urged beyond the dictates of his fancy to follow a profession. Few of his pictures have come before the public: indeed, he has painted but very little."

Leaving aside the question of whether Gurdon Trumbull is America's great neglected fish-painter, I instead turn to his book of game bird names. Trumbull chronicled these names up and down the eastern seaboard, down to specific towns in many cases. He also cited nomenclature in places further afield, such as the British Isles (can you beat the name of "coal-and-candlelight" for Long-tailed Duck, formerly Oldsquaw? I assume this was was another example of onomatopoeia as given in the more commonly seen rendition of these ducks' calls as "owl omelet.") Trumbull worked in an era when regional names for animals were very much the norm. Think about that the next time you look at your AOU Check-list or your ABA list. In any case, Trumbull's book of game bird names is a precious linguistic legacy.

Future posts in this series will deal with specific NJ towns. Even in such a small state, where the towns in question might not be so far distant from each other, there were frequently striking differences in nomenclature. In the meantime, here are the names that Trumbull gave for the state as a whole, and of the "Jersey coast" as a smaller subset of it:

New Jersey
Black Sea-duck - Surf Scoter
Butter-box - Bufflehead
Horse-foot Snipe - Ruddy Turnstone
Pond Broad-bill - Lesser Scaup
Pond Saw-bill - Hooded Merganser
Rail-bird - Sora
Red-back - Dunlin
Widgeon - American Wigeon

Jersey coast
Fresh-water Mud-hen - Virginia Rail
Old Wife - Long-tailed Duck
Red Goose - Snow Goose

French, Harry Willard. 1878. Art and Artists in Connecticut. Lee & Shepard, Boston, MA. Google Books link
Trumbull, Gurdon. 1888. Names and Portraits of Birds Which Interest Gunners with Descriptions in Language Understanded of the People. Harper & Brothers, New York, NY. Google Books link

Friday, September 05, 2008

Baird's Sandpiper

Baird's Sandpiper
Originally uploaded by ammodramus88
On this day in 1898, David McCadden collected a Baird's Sandpiper at Stone Harbor in Cape May County (Stone 1908).

It might indicate the relative rarity of this fall migrant through NJ that, when Stone compiled his list of NJ birds ten years after that first Baird's was collected, it was still the only state record. If there had been a Review List then, Baird's Sandpiper probably would've been on it. The state maxima was ten birds at Brigantine NWR on 8 September 1992 (Walsh et al. 1999).

The bird illustrating this post was on the Cumberland County end of Johnson Sod Farm on 1 September 2007.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Weather: Hanna

Short-billed Dowitcher
Over the weekend, Tropical Storm (currently) Hanna will be tracking through our area. Though the exact track is yet to be seen, Hanna has the potential to be a "bird storm" here in NJ. There are currently discussions about Hanna's birding potential on JerseyBirds and MDOsprey, at least; I'm sure others are happening on other states' lists as well. Just to make things more interesting, Hanna is being followed by Hurricane Ike (already Category 4, yikes!) and Tropical Storm Josephine.

NJ bird storms tend to track to the west of the Delaware River (but not always). Here are tracks of some past NJ bird storms courtesy of the UNISYS historical hurricane data site:

Connie (1955)
Donna (1960)
David (1979)
Bertha (1996)
Floyd (1999)
Isabel (2003)
Ernesto (2006)

Mention "hurricane" and "birds" in the same breath, and one probably thinks of tropical species like Sooty and Bridled terns. But the (blurry) photo that accompanies this post is of a Short-billed Dowitcher I found in a local farm field the day after Ernesto passed in 2006 (not long after I'd gotten my brand-new Canon A620 digital camera, not coincidentally). That puddle also hosted Semipalmated Sandpiper, Wilson's Snipe and Solitary Sandpiper. I probably would've found something really special if I'd checked that puddle during the height of the storm the day before. But, the point I'm trying to make is that while the rarities brought by a passing hurricane may be nice, the grounded migrants may provide equally good birding.

When I was chatting with my hurricane guru Rob Hilton last night, he mentioned Weather Underground's section on tropical weather. This site has such wonderful toys as a display of multiple models for a storm, and historic storm tracks that are (in the case of this one for Hanna) "1851-2006 tracks of all September tropical storms passing within 200 miles of Tropical Storm Hanna." Plus much more. It's a great resource for birders intrigued by weather (which is probably every birder who has a hurricane with the potential to dump good birds on them).

Good birding all, and let's be careful out there.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

OT: What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Not nearly all I meant to do! When you work full-time and are in grad school part-time, every bit of free time seems like a resource to be used (possibly even "exploited"). Summer becomes a vast expanse of opportunity, not unlike the North American frontier during the 19th century. In that sense, I failed miserably, because the wild frontier is still there and the prairie dogs are snickering at me. But that may be a good thing.

I took lots of photos of moths, many of which may never be identified (or at least not identified for months to come). Keeping a moth list is a lesson in deferred satisfaction. Birders are used to being able to look the mystery bird up in our choice of field guides or reference tomes. Moth-ers have to go through other routes (though Charles Covell's Peterson series guide to eastern moths has been reissued by the Virginia Museum of Natural History). Luckily, the internet has become a great resource for folks interested in moths to post photos and get feedback. The Moth Photographers Group is just one example, and one I've relied on often.

By the way, this lovely moth is a Common Lytrosis. There are many mellifluous and intriguing moth common names; this, alas, is not one of them. My pick is "Hand-tinted Woodcut Moth"; some of the Flickr commenters mentioned birch bark, so I could be talked into "Birch Bark Moth" (or "Birch-bark Moth"?^).

In any case, suddenly September and the beginning of the school semester is looming. And all the blog posts I'd intended to get under my belt in anticipation of the upcoming fall school/first state record season remain unwritten. Never mind, we'll muddle through somehow.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Wood Stork

On this day in 1922, Witmer Stone saw a Wood Stork soaring with Turkey Vultures and Broad-winged Hawks over Cape May. The winds were from the northeast and Stone watched the stork ride a thermal up into the sky. Later in the day, he saw the bird two more times (Stone 1922). The following year, no fewer than four Wood Storks appeared in Cape May on 7 July; these birds lingered until 21 August (Stone 1923). After that, there was a hiatus until 1951.

Stone, Witmer. 1923. Wood Ibis in New Jersey again. Auk 40:692-693. PDF here
Stone, Witmer. 1922. Wood Ibis (Mycteria americana) at Cape May, N. J. Auk 39:565-566. PDF here

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

OT: Froggu's Back!

Froggu's Back!
Originally uploaded by ammodramus88
The dispassionate caption for this photo is that I saw a Northern Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor) on my deck for the first time this season tonight (I heard one calling as well). However, sharing one's deck with treefrogs makes one (ok, makes me) a bit sentimental and inclined to give said treefrogs silly pseudo-Finnish nicknames like "froggu." All I know is that Froggu makes a darn good lamp ornament while s/he waits for unwary bugs.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cave Swallow

On this day in 1990, Vince Elia found a Cave Swallow at Bunker Pond in Cape May. At the time, it was the only East Coast record of the species north of Florida, apart from four records from Nova Scotia (Boyle et al. 1990, Connor 1991). The swallow merited a "S.A." item in American Birds, and lingered until 4 June. This bird was believed to be of the Caribbean subspecies fulva at the time, based on rump color. A Nova Scotia specimen was of this subspecies.

The Cave Swallow gives a lesson in how quickly bird distribution can change. As of early 2008, just 18 years after the first state record, there are 34 accepted NJ records of the species, and it has become almost routine in Cape May in late fall. Cave Swallow has also been seen at Sandy Hook several times, not to mention as far north as Sussex County. This suggests that, given appropriate weather conditions and birder coverage, it will ultimately be seen in every county in the state. This explosion in Cave Swallow records has been mirrored across the Northeast, since the right weather can lead to massive falls of Cave Swallows across the region (Brinkley & Lehman 2003). To sum up, "Most sightings are related to an extended period of southwesterly flow followed by the passage of a cold front and a switch in wind direction to west, northwest, or north" (Barnes et al. 2006).

The first Cave Swallow specimen from NJ came from Island Beach in 2002, and it proved to be of the southwestern subspecies pelodoma, as expected for this season (Boyle et al. 2003). A split of fulva and pelodoma has been rumored, and if it comes to pass, "Cave Swallow" identification in NJ will become even more of a headache than at present, when all the observer usually worries about is following a small agile bird in flight.

Barnes, Scott, Joe Burgiel, Vince Elia, Jennifer Hanson, Laurie Larson, & Paul Lehman. 2006. New Jersey Bird Records Committee - annual report 2006. New Jersey Birds 32:66-76.

Boyle, Bill, Joe Burgiel, Laurie Larson, & George Nixon. 2003. New Jersey Bird Records Committee - annual report, 2003. New Jersey Birds 29:46-56.

Boyle, William J., Jr., Robert O. Paxton, & David A. Cutler. 1990. The Spring Season, Hudson-Delaware Region. American Birds 44:400-406.

Brinkley, Edward S., & Paul E. Lehman. 2003. The changing seasons: Unabashed bonanza. North American Birds 57:14-21.

Connor, Jack. 1991. Season at the Point. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

OT: Blog-gazing

As I've previously mentioned here, I'm currently working on a MLIS degree (library school, if you prefer) at Rutgers. My first year (of three) is drawing to a close and although it would be difficult to distill the experience into one post, it has given me a new perspective on many things (including birds and history). It's also gotten me into reading a whole new assortment of blogs (not that classwork leaves much time for blog reading); yes, librarians are at least as blog-happy as birders, if not more so.

Tonight's class (Information Technologies for Libraries and Information Analysis) featured a guest lecturer on open source systems, both in general and specifically for libraries. She gave us a great lecture and I was furiously scribbling down programs to research further (maybe in the summer, when I might have free time). At the end of her lecture, she mentioned her blog, What I Learned Today, and I had a DUH! moment. I guess I blipped over Nicole Engard's name in previous mentions (sorry, Nicole!), but hearing the title of her blog made me realize that she was the creator of one of the library blogs that's made it to my RSS roll for daily reading. It was very startling to have a blog "come to life" like that; there's a big difference between looking at text on the computer screen and seeing an enthusiastic lecturer behind the podium. It was also very cool, if truth be told.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Purple Martin

On this day in 1749, Pehr Kalm wrote about swallows in his journal. The timing is not surprising, since swallows are among the returning migrants at this time of year. Kalm took the opportunity to write about the local swallows in Raccoon (now Swedesboro), NJ; Barn Swallow and Bank Swallow received notice, as did the "chimney swallow," which has since been reclassified as Chimney Swift.

Kalm concluded by writing about the Purple Martin. Even in that early day, people built houses for martins in order to attract them. Kalm states, "They drive away both hawks and crows as soon as they see them, and by their anxious note alarm the poultry of the approach of their enemies. The chickens run to shelter as soon as they are warned by the martins" (Kalm 1987).

The martin image in this post is an Arm and Hammer trading card illustrated by Louis Aggasiz Fuertes. Fuertes did three groups of paintings for Arm and Hammer, and the cards frequently turn up on eBay.

Kalm, Peter. 1987. Peter Kalm's Travels in America. Dover, New York, NY.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Great Horned Owl

Last night (this morning?) I woke up around 3 AM. This, regrettably, is not an uncommon occurrence, but last night it proved to be abetted by a calling Great Horned Owl. Further listening proved that it was one of a duetting pair. I thought it might be nice to pull a pertinent quote out of the literature but my first attempt (Stone 1894) proved less helpful than expected:

"Resident. Rather common in the wilder parts of the country, but rare in the settled districts."

Then I went to Stone (1908):

"A rather rare resident." Stone went on to cite Babson (1901), which covers my current neighborhood (albeit over 100 years ago), so I figured I'd follow the paper trail. Babson said:

"At present this species is rather uncommon, but not as infrequent as [Barred Owl]. One is occasionally seen in the big woods near Cedar Grove, where an adult was recently shot and is now in the University Collection. During the past winter (1901) Mr. D. Miner Rogers saw one near the Millstone, and although but two nests have been found during the last five years, they undoubtedly breed every spring at Cedar Grove and Sorrel Mountain."

Being a newcomer, I don't know Cedar Grove, but I have a strong suspicion that "Sorrel Mountain" is now known as the Sourlands. Babson's introduction says of Sorrel Mountain: "North of Blawenburg is Sorrel Mountain, similar to Mount Lucas, but higher and more extensive..."

Final resort to Walsh et al. (1999) suggested that Great Horned Owl suffered in earlier times due to persecution. All I can say is that if I can wake up during the middle of the night in the condo/townhouse zone that Plainsboro has become and hear nearby calling Great Horned Owls, that must be some mark of progress.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Artistic Forensics: The Case of the Carbonated Swamp-Warbler

Among the many birds painted by John James Audubon, a few have never been conclusively matched with species known today. These mystery birds have caused speculation among ornithologists and birders for decades, and now David Sibley has entered the fray. Although the Carbonated Swamp-Warbler is not known to have been a NJ bird (and this post is therefore an extralimital one), this post on the Sibley Guides Notebook blog is worth the time of anyone interested in birding history or bird art (the comments on the post are interesting reading, as well). Matters such as plumage details, artistic style, printing technology and observer reputation are brought up by Sibley and the commenters.