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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Lady Warblers of the West (plus one of the East)

[Mt. Lemmon, AZ. April, August 2015]

Gentleman warblers are well known to birders -- Audubon's, Wilson's, Kirtland's, Townsend's, Swainson's, MacGillivray's, ... to name but a few. However, how many of us are acquainted with our Lady Warblers?

This imbalance in nomenclature is surely a consequence of the regrettable historical fact that, earlier (although true to some degree even now), men and women have been role-bound by gender. And, in the 1700 and 1800's when the birdlife of America was being scientifically documented, men explorers greatly outnumbered women and were generally inspired by their own kind. Nonetheless, some warblers were indeed named after women. And, though smaller in number, our lady warblers are equally striking and deserve every birder's due consideration, and in light of their naming origins, perhaps also our outright fascination.

The mission, then, of this post is to highlight, out of a total of 50-odd warbler species in the US, the only four that are named after women. And this mission was brought to delightful fruition thanks to a recent trip to Arizona. 

Accordingly, we shall review a quartet of lady warblers: Lucy's, Grace's and Virgina's Warblers of the West; as well as Blackburnian Warbler of the Eastern US; in addition, we shall also profile the women behind the names.

We start with Grace's Warbler which is named after Grace Coues. Grace's Warbler was collected by her brother, Elliot Coues, in 1864. Elliot turned over the specimen to Spencer Baird who was responsible for its scientific description. Elliot asked Baird to name the newly discovered species after his sister, Grace, who, at the time, was but a teenager. Grace grew up to live a distinguished life -- marrying the US Ambassador to Switzerland, Charles Page in 1868 and, upon her husband's death, remarried to wed the publisher Dana Estes in 1884.

Grace's Warbler observed at Rose Canyon, Mt. Lemmon

Grace's Warbler has a limited range in the US -- it is a summer breeder mainly found in mountain pine forests of Arizona and New Mexico but it is also seen somewhat uncommonly in similar habitat in adjacent states.

Next, Lucy's Warbler. This warbler was named by Dr. Cooper after Spencer Baird's daughter's Lucy (the same Spencer Baird who named Grace's Warbler). This is a tiny warbler and is unique in being our only desert warbler -- thriving in habitat that would be considered too arid for other wood warblers.

Lucy's Warbler observed at Molino Basin, Mt. Lemmon
Lucy's Warbler is best seen in Arizona where it is quite common in appropriate habitat. This blogger has also observed this warbler at Big Bend NP in Texas where a small population can be sighted. Plumed in delicate shades of cream and grey, this warbler has a rusty crown patch that is usually visible.

Our final Lady Warbler of the West is Virginia's Warbler:

Virginia's Warbler observed at Summerhaven, Mt. Lemman
Virginia's Warbler observed at Summerhaven, Mt. Lemman
Similar to how Grace's Warbler was named, Baird named this warbler after the collector's wishes -- in this case, Dr. William Andersen. A surgeon in the US Army, Dr. Andersen desired that the warbler's name should serve to immortalize his wife -- Virginia. This warbler is probably more widely distributed relative to Grace's and Lucy's  -- being found in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. Virginia's Warbler has grey upperparts and white undersides; there is yellow on both the breast and vent; the white eye-rings are quite prominent.

And, lest we forget, we do indeed have a single Lady Warbler in the East -- Blackburnian Warbler which is named after the Englishwoman Anna Blackburne (1726 -- 1793). Mrs. Blackburne (as she preferred to be known although she never married) was a patron of Ornithology and owned a museum in Lancashire, England. It was her brother, Ashton Blackburne, who collected the type specimen and the species was named after Anna by the German zoologist Philipp Ludwig Statius Muller in 1776.

Blackburnian Warbler seen at Magee Marsh, OH
The Blackburnian Warbler outshines most other warblers with its drop-dead gorgeous looks -- a flame-colored throat and face -- the latter showing bold black markings -- set against white undersides and black upperparts. It is a perennial favorite at migration hotspots such as Magee Marsh where it is commonly observed.

Our "Lady Warblers" are a delightful assortment of songbirds that not only typify signature species of the Warbler family but also profile the women in the life of our early explorers and naturalists. Accordingly, the reader is exhorted to discover these 4 warblers that are not only photogenic but also historically significant.

1 comment:

Bob Pelkey said...

Lucy's Warbler is my favorite warbler highlighted in this post as "our only desert warbler." The rusty patch also reminds me of kinglets.