Saturday, May 24, 2008

more coffee musings

Today's piping plover adventure takes place in the dusty archives of early Canadiana rather than on the beach due to the oral surgery yesterday. I was overly optimistic in my belief that I would be able to do much of anything today. Coffee of the day is French Roast Colombian from Plum Island Coffee Roasters. Mug of the day is from The Farmer's Diner. Bird of the day is mourning dove cooing/moaning so loud outside the back door that I thought it was inside my house.

OK, so the archives are not literally dusty because they're online. I discovered Early Canadiana Online over the winter while researching Newfoundland whaling history, of which there wasn't much in the archive. Oddly there were more references in the database to alcoholism than to whaling. Anyway, the other night when I couldn't sleep for all the adrenaline generated by anxiety over having teeth out, I thought I'd search the Early Canadiana database for "piping plover". Besides the numerous scholarly journal articles from days long gone by, I found Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Arctic Ocean in 1833, 1834, and 1835 under the Command of Capt. Back, R.N. by Richard King and Narrative of the Arctic Land Expedition to the Mouth of the Great Fish River, and along the Shores of the Arctic Ocean in the Years 1833, 1834, and 1835 by Sir George Back. Both King and Back describe collecting a specimen of Charadrius melodus on Lake Winnipeg.

King goes into way more about how before it was named Charadrius melodus by George Ord there was much confusion in the ornithology literature over whether it was a separate species from the common ringed plover. I've never seen so many famous names in ornithology mentioned in one paragraph before. He's got Lucien B0naparte, Temminck, Wilson, Ord, and a few I've never heard of like Wagler, who apparently also named the piping plover Charadrius Okenii. My favorite sentence is this: "The Prince of Musignano has clearly pointed out the specific difference of this pretty plover from either Charadrius semipalmatus or hiaticula, to both of which species it has been referred by existing authors, and has thus rescued from unjust censure the ever-to-be-lamented Wilson." He mentions "censurers of Wilson" again too. Apparently it really bothered him that Wilson wasn't given his due on this. And who the heck was Musignano?

Back on the other hand emphasizes the fact that Lake Winnipeg may be the northern limit of the piping plover's range. He concludes that because neither Sir John Franklin nor Capt. James Ross observed any in their expeditions at higher latitudes, where they did see semipalmated plovers. Back also gives a detailed physical description, which King does not. The whole Wilson thing gets one sentence and he doesn't mention the censurers or the myriad other ornithologists. Not even Bonaparte. And I love Back's description of the color I always describe as "dry sand". He describes it as "intermediate between yellowish-gray and light broccoli-brown of Werner." Broccoli-brown? What does that even look like? Charles Darwin used Werner's Nomenclature of Colors but the only mention of "broccoli-brown" in Voyage of the Beagle is in a description of some kind of planaria. I guess back in the day when everybody used Werner for their color names, anybody reading that would be able to picture it. I think I'll stick with "dry sand".

Oh, and the Prince of Musignano? That's Lucien Bonaparte. Learn something new every day.

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