Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Philly, Phinally

In 1842, one of the great early American ornithologists blasted the snot out of a little bird with a yellow tummy and heavy bill.  Science etiquette told him he could not name it after himself.  Realizing he was a hop, skip and a jump from one of North America's leading science epicenters, he gave it the name "Philadelphia Vireo."

Had John Cassin (left) known a little more about the bird, he could have, perhaps, given it a more intriguing name.  Had he known the bird nests in the mixed hardwoods of Canada, he could have named it "Canada Vireo".  But, he didn't know that. Maybe he could have called it the "Yellow-breasted Insect Gleaner" after its appearance and diet, but he didn't do that, did he?  

A key thing to keep in mind is this - the Philadelphia Vireo was named a century-and-a-half ago because Cassin shot it near Philly.  Realistically, it has nothing to do with the place.  As a migrant, it was just passing through that September day.  Birders all over eastern North America find them every spring and fall as they move from Canada to the tropics where they spend the winter.  I suspect many, especially those that have been birding for a while, have a Philidelphia Vireo for the checklist of their favorite birding location.  

But not me.

Until today.

This morning, I got a Philadelphia Vireo for my Lake Erie Metropark (and Wayne County) checklist.  Phinally.  No, no, no, don't get me wrong. It was not a life bird, it was simply a  new bird.  

While it may not look like much to some, it was a true treasure for me.  A key feature was the yellow wash that was all over the throat, breast, and belly.  Check this picture and you will see what I mean.  If there was less yellow, I would have needed to be more critical to make sure it was not one of these - a Warbling Vireo.  A better example, with yellow more like that  of a Philly, can be seen here

So there it sat.  15 away, 10 feet up, sitting pretty for seconds.  Bird #274 for Wayne County and #246 for Lake Erie Metropark. 

Fortunately for me and birders everywhere, the Philly Cheesesteak had not yet been developed when Cassin collected his  first specimen.  I can only imagine how stupid a name for a bird that could have been!

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