Portrait of Alexander Wilson (public domain)
2013 is the 200th anniversary of Alexander Wilson’s death.
Born in Scotland in 1766, Wilson was apprenticed to his brother-in-law, a weaver. He was also a poet, and some of his satirical works saw him running afoul of the law. At the age of 27, Wilson moved to Philadelphia, where he met William Bartram, the botanist and author generally considered to be America’s first native-born naturalist. Bartram fostered and encouraged the young man’s interest in birds, and in 1802 Wilson decided to publish a work illustrating all the birds of North America. This effort was distinguished by Wilson’s emphasis on observation of live birds in their natural habitats, rather than relying primarily on already-dead specimens and birds in captivity.
Nine volumes of Wilson’s American Ornithology were published from 1808-1814. Volume 9 was published posthumously by George Ord, one of Wilson’s friends and executor of his estate. Alexander Wilson died in August of 1813 at the age of 47, succumbing to an illness that set in after he swam into a river, fully clothed, to secure a bird specimen.
American Ornithology depicts 268 species, including many first described by Wilson. His admirers and peers worked to expand American Ornithology after Wilson’s death, issuing supplements and further editions in an effort to complete his goal to illustrate all the birds of North America.
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Despite intermittent downpours here in San Francisco, I daresay that Spring has sprung in beautiful Golden Gate Park. The tulips are blooming in the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, the Calla lilies are taking over JFK Drive, and birds of all shapes and sizes are happily hunkering down over their nests. Apparently in California, the return of cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) to Mission San Juan Capistrano is said to be a harbinger of spring. Although these days swallows seem to favor nesting sites besides the Mission, and problematically arrive before spring does.
Cliff Swallow from the Manzanita Image Project
Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles © California Academy of Sciences
I love this time of year, when the weather gets warmer but everything is still green. In my daily life, I am both a distance runner and a bicyclist. I commute to the Academy by bicycle every day, and most days I run outside as well. I’m in and around Golden Gate Park on foot or on a bike several times a day, and I’ve started to notice more and more of the plants and animals around me (especially as the days grow longer and sunnier).
I don’t listen to music while I run. But I still seek some distraction to take my mind off the fact that I’m running even though no one is chasing me. In graduate school, I used the time to plan out my assignments. If I’m desperate, I’ll do math problems just to take my mind off things. I’ve resorted to the “If a train leaves Springfield traveling 85 miles per hour…” variety of word problem more than once. Lately, I’m trying to identify and remember some of the wildlife I see while out and about in the Park.
I’m challenging myself to notice, identify, and remember at least 2 animals or plants I see on every run. To keep myself honest, I’m going to tweet about my findings, reporting my sightings in 140 characters or less. I’ll include links to images so you can get a look at our co-inhabitants of Golden Gate Park.
First tweet is already out! Not following me on Twitter yet? You’ll find me @tiny_librarian (http://twitter.com/tiny_librarian).