A Vacation Like No Other

Back in the 1980s, one of my graduate students and I split the cost of an Ontario Lottery ticket. We knew that the chances of winning were vanishingly small (p<0.000001) but the jackpot had risen to $24 million—real money in those days. It was a cheap and fun investment that could really help my research …

Banner year

Last week I showed a banner the role of some prominent women in the history of ornithology. We prepared that large banner to display at the recent AOS conference in Anchorage, but I thought it worth posting here for those of you who were not at that conference or were just too busy to stop …

Contemplating the Tundra

CELEBRATING THE HISTORY OF WOMEN IN ORNITHOLOGY Until the 1970s, few women could have called themselves ‘professional’ ornithologists no matter how great their contribution to the study of birds. As I have documented earlier in this series of essays about the history of ornithology, women were most often (i) invisible, in the sense that we …

Mr. Cairngorms

In 2013, while compiling information for a chapter on the contributions of ornithology to evolutionary biology, I carried on a lively correspondence, by email, with Adam Watson. Watson was a renowned Scottish ecologist, naturalist and conservationist who had worked with Vero Wynne-Edwards, a staunch promoter of evolution by group selection.  We have all of Wynne-Edwards …

In the Shadow of Men

In 1973, I was stranded for several days on a small island in Witless Bay off the southeast coast of Newfoundland. I had gone there several times already that summer, conducting seabird surveys for the Canadian Wildlife Service. Landing on Green Island was sometimes difficult and the days were short as the local cod fishermen—Bill …

Ortolan of the Snows

[This is a greatly expanded and edited version of an article I wrote for the 7th Annual Newsletter of the Canadian Snow Bunting Network (online here), sent out a couple of weeks ago] In 1981, during my first high arctic field season, my incomparable group of graduate students and field assistants [1] saw some great …

A Great Store of Fowle

Four hundred and eight years ago this month—in August 1610—Henry Hudson and his crew of 21 on the tiny ship DISCOVERY entered Hudson’s namesake bay in search of a northwest passage to the orient. As far as we know, Hudson’s 1610-1611 expedition was the first time that Europeans had recorded the sighting of an identifiable …

The Peculiar Etymologies of Ross’s Birds

When I was first starting to learn about birds, I was particularly intrigued (and delighted) with the peculiar names that had come from old English (dunlin, cormorant) and other languages (guillemot, eider), and those that were onomatopoeic (cuckoo, chickadeee). I also assumed that those birds named after people (Audubon’s Warbler, Temminck’s Stint, Townsend’s Warbler) were …